Some Observations on the CBD meeting in Pyeongchang (October 2014)

Dr. Nial Moores, Birds Korea, October 19th 2014

This month, governments and experts on biodiversity from many of the world’s nations gathered in Pyeongchang in Gangwon Province. There, an olympic ski resort with its manicured lawns, hotels and casino, was converted for a fortnight to host the biennial meeting of the intergovernmental Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other associated high-level meetings, under the banner of Sustainable Development.

As an organization, Birds Korea had very limited presence at this CBD meeting (myself only was in attendance, and only for the 6th, 7th and 8th). However, this still allowed us to distribute 250 copies of our latest report, Status of Birds, 2014; to attend several important side-events (including one focused on the Wadden Sea MOU with the ROK and another on the Yellow Sea); to discuss strategy with several other organisations and key players, with our emphasis on supporting key organisations, while also remaining focused on (a) fulfillment of existing obligations to the CBD and Ramsar, and (b) promotion of the idea that the ROK needs to host a regional workshop on identifying Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) in the Yellow Sea.

Held behind security fences, and at one level isolated from the world outside, the main CBD meeting was focused one way or another on assessing progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which since 2010 have called for every nation to reduce the rate of loss of natural habitats and to stop the decline of threatened species within this decade. As reported in opening statements to this meeting on October 6th and in the latest Global Biodiversity Outlook report, however, more species are globally threatened in 2014 than in 2010, and many important habitats continue to be degraded, some at increasing rates. This global assessment by the CBD secretariat, unsurprisingly, is very similar to that of WWF International’s 2014 Living Planet Report (which found a decline of more than half in species populations worldwide since 1970) and to our own national assessment, Status of Birds, 2014. The general conclusion: the Aichi Targets, like earlier targets, will likely be missed, unless there is an immediate change in policies, attitudes and lifestyles.

All of us are responsible for the ongoing biodiversity crisis; and all of us need to find solutions to it, now, not later. It was therefore deeply disappointing to hear speakers from some leading international NGOs talk openly at side-events about the likely failure to meet these targets, and even the sentiment that we cannot expect governments to halt reclamation in the Yellow Sea “suddenly”. Tidal-flat reclamation is in neither the national nor the global interest. Calls to stop large-scale reclamation in this region have been made for decades. The ROK even committed, under Ramsar, not to permit any more large-scale reclamation projects back in 2008. The Aichi Targets themselves were drawn-up and agreed to by national governments (not by NGOs), and they represent the national, public commitment of nations, including the Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of China.

Rather than prepare for failure, we all need:

  1. To believe that these Aichi Targets can still be met and to act accordingly. Through these Targets, governments of this region are committed to halve or even to reduce to zero the rate of loss of tidal-flats and other natural habitats within this decade. It is the role of NGOs, media, academics and others to continue to help decision-makers to fulfil these obligations, by raising public awareness and support for conservation policies, through the use of science and responsible advocacy. It should not be our role to encourage governments to fail to meet existing obligations.
  2. To continue communicating that failure to meet these Aichi Targets is unacceptable, as the long-term consequences of failure, as with climate change targets, are simply too enormous to comprehend, while the benefits of successfully meeting these targets would instead be tremendous;
  3. To improve synergies between various (poorly-resourced) conservation initiatives, so that they can more rapidly move from the acquisition of science, to the marriage of science and policy, and on to the actual implementation by decision-makers of policies that will help to conserve biodiversity. Why was there no clearly agreed Yellow Sea strategy (prepared before the CBD COP and based on input from domestic NGOs and experts), that was clearly focused on reaching the higher level of decision-makers in the ROK and China? At the 2016 meeting, there needs to be.

  4. To reduce our own day-to-day impacts on biodiversity, and on the climate (both of which are closely intertwined, of course). We all need to reduce consumption; and to live much more lightly. The whole of this CBD event, aspiring to sustainable development by member nations, did achieve commendable progress on some issues. However, it was in itself energy-wasteful and unnecessarily extravagant. What cost the loss of forest to create the ski resort and related infrastructure (for this and the 2018 olympics)? How much fuel was used to get participants to Korea, to Pyeongchang and each day from hotel to venue (with some participants even needing to stay each night in Gangneung, an hour by bus from the meeting itself)?  Why host the evening reception in an outdoor stadium, using heaters and serving meats and fish, when vegan food would have been much less impactful and relevant (and probably tastier). And why too the paucity of conservation actions in the run-up to the meeting, and in media coverage during it? Indeed, what was won for domestic biodiversity conservation during this CBD meeting? At least at those side-events I attended during the first three days, there were no high-level decision-makers from the ROK in attendance and no big announcements made by our government. Multiple positive initiatives were explained, and some synergies found between them. But if success is measured by action, we need to ask if any dying tidal-flats were restored as a result of these meetings? Were reclamation plans cancelled? Were forests spared or major development projects modified as a result? And who in Korea reading this post even saw detailed coverage of this meeting on TV or read about it in national newspapers? If not, why not?

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets need to be defended and met. After all, biodiversity is the web of life that surrounds and sustains us.

The CBD meeting in Pyeongchang is now over. We need to build on the progress achieved there, and to learn more quickly from our mistakes. Work to promote and defend these vital Aichi Targets must now continue through to the end of the decade. Please join us!

Click on the images to see enlarged.

Security at the CBD meeting,
October 6th.

Evening outdoor reception for the CBD COP, October 6th.

Protests outside the CBD meeting, October 6th.

Protests outside the CBD meeting, October 6th.

Dr. Lee Jihyun (Environment Affairs Officer, Marine and Coastal Biodiversity, the CBD) explains the EBSA process at a marine biodiversity program side-event, and states that she will ask regional governments to consider hosting a regional EBSA workshop for the Yellow Sea (October 6th).

EAAFP staff holding up a specially-made poster on the Flyway, made by students from Obang Elementary School (Gimhae) for the B.I.R.D.S club, made after the Nakdong education seminar in September (kindly supported by K-Water).

Main plenary in session at the CBD COP.

Key message on the side of the NIBR exhibition booth, in the exhibition hall outside of the CBD COP.

Dr. Nial Moores, Birds Korea, introduces some of the findings of Status of Birds 2014 at a side-event looking at declines of shorebirds and other threatened waterbirds in the Yellow Sea and the Flyway, hosted by the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership Secretariat (October 8th).

Dr. Martin Baptist, Senior Research Associate at the Waddenacademie, explains his dismay at the severity of the biodiversity crisis in the Yellow Sea, and makes several proposals to improve conservation opportunities (October 8th).

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