THE EARTH TIMES
DECEMBER 15, 1994
‘We had genuine give-and-take on the issue of financial mechanisms….”
BY ASHALI VARMA
Elizabeth Dowdeswell of Canada is executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which sponsored the recent biodiversity conference ‘in Nassau. Dowdeswell spoke at length with The Earth Times. Excerpts:
What do you think were the main achievements of the First Conference of Parties?
Well; this first meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) had a number of things that
it had to accomplish. And some of them were administrative. Like choosing the host
organization. Like rules of procedure. Like setting up the scientific and technical advisory
body; And essentially we got through all of those.
But more importantly we had a genuine debate on the issue of financial mechanism
and ended up giving some real policy guidance to the Global Environment Facility, as the
interim mechanism. The discussion about the medium term work program, for example, was highly significant, because that’s where you really started to assess ‘the priorities of
countries. And I was delighted, for example with the focus on marine ecosystems and
marine biosafety. We’ve been accused of just concerning ourselves with terrestrial system:
Will developing countries have to restructure their own resources to meet conservation needs?
I think that there will be a mix of solutions to the financial and technological resource
question. And I think every country, developed or developing, will find ways of
supporting what needs to be done. But in addition, now that the convention is up and
running, I think the case can be made to a number of different funding sources. The press conference given by Tim Wirth on the coral reef project is a good example of two things: First, a number of countries coming together with their developing country partners to address a specific issue. Second, it’s an initiative that deals not only with biodiversity, but also with climate change. I think increasingly the environmental problems that we face can not be approached in a fragmented way, and so that initiative, I think, is particularly exciting.
How do you see UNEP’s role as a secretariat for the COP evolving?
As I understand the wish of the parties, the clearinghouse is definitely a part of the secretariat. UNEP, as the host organization, I think can do two things. One is that it can
provide the administrative milieu, to make sure that things work very smoothly. In
addition, what is of significance, is our complimentary support. We have a revitalized
biodiversity program and it will be geared to support the implementation of the convention itself. I think you can expect that those links will be very closely drawn. I point to biosafety as an example. We know that it will take some time to get the expert committee up and running and start the discussions on negotiations on a protocol on biosafety. That takes a while. But I am committed to looking at the issue of guidelines in the short term very quickly, and so I think you can see that UNEP will be moving ahead on the biosafety issue, in consultation with governments around the world as a contribution to the next COP.
‘We have been accused of just focusing on terrestrial systems… ‘
Intellectual property rights is a big issue and very much a crucial part of the Convention, but so far it’s more for big business and not for grass roots communities in developing countries. Is there a mechanism that can ensure an equitable sharing of benefits?
The discussion on the medium term plan of work was important because it recognized that the three pillars of the convention includes equity, had to be given equal significance if you like, in the work plan. And so it’s very important to understand that conservation, sustainable use and equity will direct the work program.
I’m pleased that the issue of intellectual property rights, which is so misunderstood is
actually on the medium term work progress. I think as tough as the negotiations were here the fact is it’s in the medium term work program and that’s going to lead to a better
understanding, a better articulation of the issues and a bringing together of those
This convention was built on partnerships with indigenous peoples. It also has to involve
other elements of society, and I think we would be committing a grave mistake if we didn’t ensure that business and industry also at the table right from the outset.
What can be done to involve industry in this convention?
The lesson we’ve learned from Montreal Protocol is that we can make real advances,
both in understanding and in actual solution development when we have all of the parties
around the table. And that is a model that think we have to pursue in this case as well.
I think these are still early days for the convention and I think business and industry
will be increasingly interested in being here. One of the things that made this set of.
negotiations different was the Biodiversity Technology Fair, for example, and there,
every two days, various firms were involved, and there was a lot of discussion going on
between business and industry and the delegates themselves. They weren’t always
sitting in the rooms when the negotiations were going on, but they were present in the
last two weeks. And. I think that the Biodiversity Technology Fair was of real
benefit to participants.