Dispatches from Pyeong Chang, S. Korea
The weather in Pyeong Chang (S. Korea) is very cold. The participants of Conference of Parties (COP) – 12 with their multiple agendas and contestations, counter statements are keeping the negotiation rooms very warm. The parties to convention are extremely thankful to Korean government for warm hospitality irrespective of the fact that everyone is freezing in plenary and working group tents. They are showing their deep gratitude by opening each and every statement they make (intervention as it is called in COP terminology), with ‘we show our gratitude to Korean Government for being a warm host’…blah, blah, blah. I’m sure the Korean government must be tired of listening to the same thing over again and again. Ah! And then they thank the elected chair and keep reminding her that they will be very supportive.
Last day I was following the Working Group –II (Convention on Biological Diversity) where the first reading of decision draft text was undertaken with discussion on item number: 19 on the agenda of draft text i.e. Article 8 (J).
Article 8 (J) which deals with the traditional knowledge, innovation and practices of convention (on biological diversity) is one of the most contested pieces where agreement was reached over a period of time. Restating it in the archaic language of COP terminology- it has no Square Brackets. “Article- (8) Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate: (J) Subject to its national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices;”
In addition to the first reading of draft text, the parties were also supposed to undertake the mid-term review of implementation of Article 8 (J) in their countries. While most countries from developing global south very nicely avoided the review and came up with recommendation of replacing the term ‘Indigenous and local communities’ to a more ‘appropriate’ term coined by UN Permanent forum of Indigenous Issues ‘Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities’.
For many of us it may not mean anything but for international environmental governance framework every word and term matters. There was visible divide on the issue. While most developing countries preferred the term given by UN forum, Canada raised the red flag. According to Canadian negotiator the change in terminology will open a new Pandora box which initiate more issues and make the discussion longer.
India while supporting the draft text on Article 8(J) actually asked for voluntary commitments according to the needs and local conditions of the country. Sujata Arora who is representing India (negotiator in Working Group II) shared the reason behind the statement and said that the voluntary commitments will give countries space to maneuver depending on the local conditions during implementation. The Article 8 (J) is about indigenous communities sadly, the agenda of representatives of indigenous groups who also give recommendations is dictated by the ones from Americas who are always present in big numbers. That was one of the others reasons of why India took this particular stand. Still Indian stand is questionable irrespective of the fact that one size will or may not fit all. Certain homogeneity in the guidelines for implementation of article will help in evolving monitoring programmes and better comparative studies.
Besides that according to her, India already has very strong provisions like Forest Rights Act which empowers indigenous communities to sustainably harvest the biodiversity produce. The National Biodiversity Authority through which access to the resources and traditional knowledge can be availed is another instrument which India has in place, to implement the given article. The domestic laws like those reiterate that commitments and road map of implementation should be voluntary as per her words.
When asked about the High Powered Committee constituted by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and their proposed amendments for most environmental laws in India, she declined to make any comment and said that she has no right to comment on domestic policies. I find it utterly strange as the domestic policies are going to be linked to international laws and conventions. India- for sure, will use the mentioned domestic instruments during the midterm review of implementation of Aichi Targets- especially in the conversation over Strategy Goal E: ‘Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building’- Target 18 which includes Article 8 (J).
South Africa like India also has domestic legislation and wants the implementation to be voluntary as otherwise if a new language and changes in terminologies is undertaken then they have to change the norms at home, this makes the implementation more tedious.
The proceedings went on. And parties which include India, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Uganda and others were invited by the chair of the meeting to have a separate discussion to finalize whether the Convention on Biological Diversity will use ‘Indigenous and local communities’ or ‘Indigenous peoples and local communities’.
Further adding to the update, South African negotiator emphasized a lot on ‘resource mobilization’ for ‘capacity building’ which if I may take liberty to declare that- it is very cliché term- is in use in environmental governance framework from a long time. It is the most over-abused term under the ambit of which the failure to achieve agreed targets can be clubbed in.
Sadly we shall never have enough resources to implement the given goals, still the clock is clicking and something needs to be done. International environmental governance is driven by the spirit of volunteerism. The environmental governance mechanisms under UN & UNEP are toothless unlike the World Trade Organization agreements where countries can earn legal economic sanctions or boycott if they don’t implement the agreed framework in word and spirit. And that makes the feeble proceedings far more frustrating for those who want to bring change.
If not anything else after following the working groups, by the end of COP 12 I’ll be using a lot of jargons which will be un-understandable for the most around me. I’ll also accomplish the art of complicating the matters further with the spirit of volunteerism.