Volume 21, Number 7
Fannie Lou Hamer
Winter Soldier II
Behind the Scenes
Center for constitutional rights -- Ccr
CÃ©sar cuauhtÃ©moc GarcÃÂa hernÃ¡ndez
Pentagon's Toxic Legacy
Jeffrey st. Clair
Vietnam to Dude...
Body of War
Soldiers of Reason
Zinn's American Empire
Vision - Cooling Planet
Chomsky, Pappé Interview
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
One Leap Backwards for Biodiversity, One Giant Step Forward for Industry
Biodiversity loses at UN convention on biodiversity
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) emerged, along with its cousin the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), out of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Its mission is ostensibly to recommend solutions to the escalating biodiversity crisis, which is manifesting in the extinctions of hundreds of species every day and which threatens the existence of entire races of people.
The CBD was thought to be one of the more approachable UN bodies—where non-governmental organizations and indigenous peoples' organizations could air their concerns and have a chance to win important precedents on key issues. In 2000, organizations brought concerns about "terminator" seeds (seeds genetically engineered to pass on sterility traits) to the CBD, demanding a moratorium on their use. Backed by a strong, global grass-roots campaign, their effort was a success.
Those days are apparently over.
In a world that is seeing the effects of climate chaos, one could hope that a conference dubbed as the First Biodiversity and Climate Summit, would attempt to solve this disaster. Instead the Conference turned to the same culprits that got us into this mess into the first place: business, industry, and market-based approaches.
At their 2006 Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8), the CBD made their first pro-business decision, launching the "business and biodiversity initiative." This year's 2008 Ninth Conference of the Parties of the CBD (COP-9) was the grand unveiling of this new business-oriented conservation strategy. The new focus on attracting business to the Convention on Biological Diversity has led some to rename it the "Convention on Buying Diversity."
"If we want to implement the goals of the CBD and safeguard the natural basis of life for future generation, it is indispensable to involve all spheres of society, and in particular, businesses," said Gabriel Sigmar, the German minister of environment, president of COP-9.
The CBD's Business and Biodiversity Initiative states, the "Conference aims to visibly integrate the business sector..." The CBD made available many publications that were extremely pro-business, such as "Business.2010," "COP-9: Business and Biodiversity in
COP-9 also included numerous side events put on by business to showcase their market-driven conservation solutions. These events were quite blatant in their aims, with titles such as "Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Commodity Supply Chains" or "Biotrade Opportunities in Developing Countries." One especially memorable side event entitled "A Dialogue on Building Biodiveristy Business: Experiences and Opportunities," was co-hosted by Shell and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Sandy Gauntlett, chair of the Pacific Indigenous Peoples Coalition (PIPEC), said, "The parties to the CBD are fast becoming the world's largest organization dedicated to opposing equitable social change, with industry playing an increasingly larger role in commodifying the planet's environmental resources." She concluded, "Many of the parties are lining up for their slice of the cake."
The markets approach that overtook the COP-9 this year is based in part on the carbon markets strategies of the FCCC. In particular, the concept of "biodiversity offsets" is a mirror of the FCCC's carbon offsets, which have made billions for some while doing little or nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions. As with carbon offsets, the idea behind biodiversity offsets is to make up for biodiversity destruction in one place by "offsetting" it in another. This model is used in the
FERN's Jutta Kill rebuts the offset fix by saying, "Carbon offsets are worse than doing nothing because they create the illusion in the public that action is being taken, while not actually addressing the task at hand—reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
At this year's "Green COP" the CBD pledged to neutralize its carbon footprint through the purchase of carbon offsets and thereby supposedly account for all of the carbon emissions generated by moving the thousands of delegates and observers from every point on the globe to
Some activists at the COP-9 also see the market-driven biodiversity offsets approach as another face of the "disaster capitalism" model that uses crises as the entry point for economic reforms and the empowerment of corporations. The markets-based approach to biodiversity is designed to enhance the ability of business to profit off of the global ecological meltdown at the expense of biodiversity protection, which requires a much deeper analysis of the root causes of the biodiversity crisis.
This business-oriented approach was denounced by non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples' organizations, and popular movements, like Via Campesina, for catering to corporate profit instead of working toward protecting biological diversity. Camila Moreno, a researcher with the Brazilian land rights group Terra de Direitos, challenged this capitalistic approach and told Djoghlaf that if the CBD did not change this position, then there would have to be a major campaign launched against it.
At the same time that business was being given the red carpet treatment, organizations and indigenous peoples' groups were mobilizing around several key issues at this COP—two of the highest priorities being the related issues of genetically engineered (GE) trees and agrofuels.
It was during the July 2007 meeting of the CBD's Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) in the run up to COP-9, that the agrofuels issue was first raised, and a moratorium demanded. This effort was staunchly blocked by
Immediately prior to COP-9, while NGOs and IPOs were building the campaign to stop GE trees and agrofuels, Brazil and Germany announced the signing of a new bilateral energy cooperation agreement that would, among other things, include the export of agrofuels from Brazil to Germany and the export of German nuclear power expertise to Brazil. The media circus around this energy deal was one example of industry's pro-agrofuels propaganda juggernaut that inundated COP-9 before and during its first week, geared apparently toward creating a momentum that would overwhelm the mounting global opposition to agrofuels—the result of mounting evidence of their disastrous social, ecological, and even climate-changing impacts.
Trying to get through to the delegates
In the case of GE trees, the pro-industry orientation of the CBD was demonstrated repeatedly. The decision from COP-8 on GE trees called on the CBD Secretariat to gather information from relevant stakeholders and to compile it into an INFO document for the SBSTTA meeting in
In another blatant example, a delegate from
This undue industry influence was readily evident in the negotiations on GE trees. In addition to the input from ArborGen, PRRI (Public Research and Regulation Initiative), a biotechnology industry front group, was seen in huddles with the Brazilian delegation. At a COP-9 side event on GE trees, a PRRI spokesperson stated, "A moratorium on field trials [of GE trees] is against progress in science toward renew- able energy [and] puts nature and future generations at risk." Some of the more insidious influence by industry was in the manipulation of the text of the COP's decisions. There was a concerted effort, for example, to insert the phrase "consistent with international obligations" into several key decisions. While this may seem innocuous enough, in fact it opens the door to challenges under the WTO.
On top of the corporate manipulation of the COP was the CBD Secretariat's subterfuge of NGOs, IPOs, and Via Campesina. When representatives from these three groups were waiting to read their opening statements to COP-9 delegates, a member of the CBD Secretariat told them they would not be called on until the afternoon, so they should get some lunch and come back later. Moments after leaving the room, they were called to speak. Fortunately, quick action brought them back immediately so they did not lose their opportunity to present the concerns of civil society to the COP. This was one example of numerous efforts by the CBD Secretariat to undermine the efforts of civil society groups present.
The atmosphere of animosity from the Secretariat, combined with their excessive pro-business attitude, led to increasing levels of outrage among the NGOs, IPOs, and the small farmers present.
Via Campesina launched their resistance on the opening day of the COP with a protest on the green outside of the COP-9 perimeter. Agricultural biodiversity was a major theme of COP-9 and Via Campesina was protesting the exclusion of small farmers from discussions about agricultural biodiversity. After being pressured, the CBD did finally allow Via Campesina to make an opening statement to the plenary. Three days later, when Via Campesina was excluded from speaking during the COP-9 celebration of International Biodiversity Day on May 22, four Via Campesina activists dropped banners at the celebration, which read "No Agricultural Diversity Without Farmers" and "Nature for People, Not for Business."
The reaction from UN security was swift. The banners were quickly removed and the banner hangers escorted from the conference venue where their access badges were taken from them, excluding them from participating in the meetings. This "zero tolerance" attitude toward dissent continued to be felt throughout the COP and was even applied to journalists.
GE trees and monoculture timber plantations were also a magnet for protest, with three actions taking place, both on the grounds of the UN meeting, and outside. On May 23, a reception hosted by the German Forestry Association was the target of protest due to their emphasis on using technology to transform trees into "renewable energy" as well as plastics, chemicals, and other products. Following long presentations on the merits of industrial tree plantations and high tech uses for trees, participants retired to the roof for a dinner. During the dinner, a series of women from Global Forest Coalition, Global Justice Ecology Project, World Rainforest Movement, and the Brazilian group Terra de Direitos stood on a chair to give the participants an unofficial presentation on the destructive impacts of monoculture tree plantations on communities and ecosystems in countries around the world, and to warn of the potential impacts of using GE trees in future timber plantations. While a handful of forest industry representatives stormed out during the statements, others stayed and some even applauded.
A final effort to demonstrate ongoing and growing opposition to GE trees occurred on one of the last days. Women from the STOP GE Trees Campaign, along with the campaign's squirrel mascot, held a long sign in the hallway outside the door to the plenary that read, "suspend GE trees" in support of the ongoing work of the African Group to include language that would suspend future plantings of GE trees until research had proven they would do no harm. Security arrived almost immediately and forced the women to leave the building or lose their access badges.
Other actions during the COP targeted a business-sponsored lunch, where CBD Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf spoke to business about the importance of partnering with the CBD, as well as a side event hosted by the Forest Stewardship Council, which was disrupted due to FSC's wood certification program that certifies large-scale timber monocultures as sustainable.
Finally, after long weeks of haggling over each and every word, decisions at the COP-9 were made. Because all COP decisions have to be made by consensus, and due to the inability of the COP to override countries with vested financial interests in some of the most contentious issues, most of the decisions made were predictably in favor of big business.
Despite the broad, unified support among NGOs, IPOs, and numerous countries—including all of Africa— for a moratorium against GE trees, the official decision that was ultimately carved out of compromise was a watered down, loophole-ridden text that opens the door for future GE tree development. Likewise with agrofuels, where no attempt was make by the COP-9 to curb the growing and unsustainable emphasis on monopolization of land to produce transport fuel.
The lack of action was swiftly condemned. In his closing statement to the COP-9 plenary, ETC Group Executive Director Pat Mooney stated, "I am concerned that issues such as agrofuels and GE trees will come back to haunt us in the years ahead and that we will come to realize that in our effort to sidestep the challenges we face today, we are walking into a collision tomorrow."
As has historically been the case, the work to protect ecosystems will now unjustly fall upon the communities and peoples that live there. Social movements and organizations are moving forward with a newly revitalized campaign to support grassroots community efforts to protect their forests and lands from the dual threats of genetically engineered trees and agrofuels.
In the midst of the industry-dominated COP-9, critically important alliances were formed. During a panel on the social and ecological impacts of GE trees, a Brazilian representative from Women of Via Campesina announced that they would be officially taking up the issue of GE trees. This undoubtedly rocked Steve Strauss and the other three PRRI representatives since they were likely well aware of two previous actions taken by Women of Via Campesina in
Social movements are losing their patience with UN bodies such as the CBD and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. An international call has just been launched for a massive mobilization in
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.