Has the Curse of Copenhagen Been Dispelled?

Early Saturday morning in Nagoya, Japan, nature got a much needed ‘win.’

Almost a year after the bruising struggle of the Climate Change convention’s COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity reached all three of its stated goals at its 10th Conference of Parties – an achievement that was uncertain right up to the end.

This negotiation was a quite different in tone from Copenhagen. Nagoya was not marked by any of the high drama and theatrics of Copenhagen, nor did it have heads of state flying in from all around the world. Rather, it was a much more business-like affair of diplomats and environment ministers rolling up their sleeves and working out compromises.

The three major outputs from the COP are:

  1. The Nagoya Protocol
    After six years of negotiation, the Convention adopted the Nagoya Protocol on “access and benefit sharing” (ABS) of genetic resources. To make a complicated set of issues as simple as possible, this protocol is intended to define the rules of the game to cover the use of genetic resources taken from one place and transformed and commercialized somewhere else (so, imagine a Swiss pharmaceutical company taking a native plant root from a national park in Brazil and synthesizing a cure for cancer in a laboratory in Basel and then making a trillion dollars). The Protocol sets out the framework by which countries grant access to their genetic resources, regulate and license “bio-prospecting” and export of genetic materials, and revenue-sharing from potential commercialization of products derived from those genetic resources that someone is bothering to conserve. The idea is that clarifying the rules of the game will create additional incentives for countries to conserve nature’s treasure trove of potential cures for whatever ails us.
  2. The Strategic Plan
    The conference also adopted a new “Strategic Plan” with a global goal of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020 to ensure that ecosystems are resilient and able to continue to provide essential benefits and services for people. This represents a significant reframing of the biodiversity agenda around both climate change – noting the role of nature in both climate mitigation and adaptation – and the role of nature in poverty reduction. The 20 headline targets of the plan include:

    • Reduce the rate of all natural habitat loss by half by 2020.
    • All commercial fish stocks, forests and agricultural lands should be sustainably managed by 2020.
    • Prevent the extinction of known species by 2020.
    • By 2020, 17% of all terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems (we are currently at 12%) and 10% of all marine and coastal ecosystems (we are currently at only 1%) should be effectively managed in legally designated protected areas.
  3. The Resource Mobilization Strategy
    Another reason for guarded optimism this time around is that the Biodiversity Convention also adopted a “resource mobilization strategy,” recognizing that we can’t achieve the goal and supporting targets without a substantial increase in funding for conservation. The Convention was also clever enough to look at financing from “all sources” recognizing the need for both public and private resources for conservation, as well as both domestic and foreign aid funding in developing countries. Earlier this year, the donor countries replenished the Global Environment Facility, the multilateral trust fund established to finance the climate and biodiversity conventions, to the tune of $4.25 Billion for the period 2010-2014, a 37% increase over the previous four-year period. And at the Conference, France announced an additional 4 Billion euros for conservation over the next decade.  We’ll come back in two years and have another round of talks on more specific funding targets once countries have assessed how much it will cost to achieve the targets (and hopefully when the world economy is a little healthier.)

Emergent Themes

Aside from the official negotiations, a couple of key themes emerged that will likely shape the discourse on conservation over the next few years. First, there was an undercurrent of recognition of the increasingly interrelated nature of biodiversity conservation, climate change and development. Second, there was a lot more focus on the economics of biodiversity. The headline for this was the launch of the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity), which basically summarized the state of the art on the valuation of ecosystem services, and scolded mainstream economics for ignoring the economic benefits of nature as well as ignoring the costs of ecosystem degradation and pollution.

Nature Conservancy Initiatives

Finally, let me highlight a bit of the Conservancy business that got done on the margins of the Conference.  Obviously, these conferences are important for the formal negotiations, but they are also the biggest trade fair of the year on biodiversity, attracting donors and partners and researchers and the media – which is where the real excitement is.

  • Forever Costa Rica – We and our partners announced again the completion of the Forever Costa Rica project, whereby we collectively raised some $57 million to help Costa Rica complete its protected areas commitments under the Biodiversity Convention. The project was highlighted at a high level dinner celebrating the LifeWeb Initiative, which mobilized over $120 Million for conservation – Forever Costa Rica accounted for almost half of that.
  • Tri-National Initiative – The Conservancy has been promoting a three-country protected areas initiative in Latin America, involving the governments of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. Our savvy policy team there managed to get ministers from all three countries on the stage at an event to profile the developing project, with the right donor partners in the audience to witness the political commitment coming from the countries.
  • Caribbean Challenge – We also had the occasion to highlight our Caribbean Challenge project as an innovative conservation finance scheme. The project aims to establish a $40 million trust fund to provide permanent funding for conservation in eight Caribbean countries, as well as matching contributions from each of the eight countries.
  • West Indian Ocean Partnership – We also secured the commitment from the government of the Seychelles to work with a half dozen or more countries of the Indian Ocean and East African coast to develop a series of conservation commitments over the next year or so, modeled on the Micronesia and Carribean Challenges.
  • We also launched two important reports on the status of the world’s Marine Protected Areas and on the state of financing of the protected areas networks of Latin America. The recommendations of the former directly influenced the marine outcomes of the negotiations, while the latter directly contributed to the finance outcome, providing a model for the national cost analyses that countries should undertake over the next two years.

Finally, I am more optimistic today than I was when the international community adopted a vague target in 2002 to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010. This time around, we have a much clearer description of what success looks like, and what the path and guideposts are to get there. That’s significant, even if we are not 100% successful by 2020.

Lastly, let me just conclude by saying that we had a stellar (if now exhausted) and highly diverse Conservancy delegation in Nagoya, working the corridors, presiding at side events, and supporting the country delegations. Over the course of the two weeks, we had something like 12 nationalities represented, speaking over 10 languages, with a team that was never much bigger than 15 people. The Nature Conservancy truly looks and acts like an international organization on the world stage.

(Image: Cheetah in the Serengeti, Tanzania, Africa. Image credit: © Kenneth K. Coe)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful news. After Copenhagen, and after our most recent elections, so many of us were disheartened and concerned that the U.S. is once again lagging behind. It is wonderful to see TNC at its best, including understanding the importance of sharing this kind of information with us. If Andrew is optimistic, then I shall be as well!

Add a Comment