Monday, September 21, 2009

Advancing Biodiversity Protection in International Negotiations

What is the most important opportunity for advancing biodiversity protection in the near term? Given the uneven distribution of species throughout the globe, and the rapid destruction of habitat in many developing countries, the appropriate scale is global with local and regional implimentation.

The most obvious possibilities for developing global regulation, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), remain limited by problems that were present at their interception. The CBD contains only qualified commitments as a result of developing countries’ concern for sovereignty and development prerogatives, and the unwillingness of developed countries to financially support formal protection of biodiversity and habitat. Similar problems plague other global efforts to preserve habitat, such as forests and wetlands. These traditional, direct attempts to regulate biodiversity and habitat loss continue to come up short and the prospects for dramatic improvements to in situ preservation through them are dim.

In contrast, the forthcoming COP-15 negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change offer a unique and potentially very powerful opportunity to re-orient the financial and political incentives that have undermined global biodiversity and habitat agreements. The expected inclusion of a “reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation” (REDD) mechanism offers a key chance to recognize an unusual alignment of interests in preservation of tropical forests that benefits biodiversity. REDD will ultimately create a market for trading carbon credits generated through avoiding deforestation (which currently releases far more carbon dioxide per year than complete compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would prevent). After an initial setup phase, REDD will likely include tradable offset credits that simultaneously generate more wealth for tropical forest nations than current destructive activities (such as clearing for agriculture) and allow developed nations to meet emissions limitations requirements more cheaply than domestic retrofitting could acheive.

With financial incentives to conserve tropical forests, perhaps the hurdles to effective biodiversity preservation can be overcome. Further, biodiversity preservation is of fundamental importance for successful adaptation during climate change, particularly in poor areas of many developing countries, and is an appropriate design consideration in the climate regime. Indeed, many REDD proposals highlight potential biodiversity “co-benefits” that could materialize. However, none offers a mechanism that would ensure their realization.

Tropical forests are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth, but not all are equal. Those forests that pose the most urgent priorities for preserving biodiversity are frequently fragmented and relatively small. Thus, the purely carbon-centered approach to REDD that currently dominates most proposals does not assure net benefits for biodiversity and may even prove worse than the status quo.

As I explain in a short article published today in the Carbon & Climate Law Review, if REDD is really going to materialize as a powerful force for biodiversity protection, its design must include a mechanism to identify and reward REDD projects that preserve biodiversity priority areas. Through designation of biodiversity-enhancing projects, together with added financial incentives for developing and investing in them, REDD could become the most effective tool yet for stemming the sixth mass extinction.



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