Africans amplify urgent call for biodiversity protection

By Joseph Maina

July 1, 2022

African nations amplified their call for speedy progress toward enhanced protection of biodiversity at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held in Nairobi last week.

Senegal, speaking on behalf of Africa, aptly captured the continent’s interests when it spoke of the need for accelerated adoption of the framework.

“We realize that we need to have a compromise on key aspects for the adoption of the world framework on the post-2020 basis,” its representative said. “Our region is full of ecosystems and wildlife species that are so diversified and so interesting and much of our population is directly dependent on the survival of the species. It is in the interests of Africa to sustain ambitious objectives and substantial expectations in that sense.”

Speaking on behalf of the Blue Leaders, a group of countries lobbying to save the global ocean from threats posed by the climate crisis, overfishing and pollution, Nigeria urged for action that would enhance preservation of oceans and marine biodiversity.

“In raising our ambition to protect 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030, we must ensure that protected areas are meaningfully protected from environmentally damaging activities. We must also choose to protect areas that possess the greatest marine diversity, areas that are truly ecologically representative and areas that are connected to other marine ecosystems,” stated Nigeria.

Discussions focused on four goals that seek to protect biodiversity and prevent extinctions and ensure that biodiversity and genetic resources can meet people’s needs and be equally shared while respecting traditional knowledge and indigenous rights.

But little progress was made, prompting some scientists and conservationists to question whether an agreement can be finalized at December’s UN biodiversity summit in Montreal, Canada.

Senegal, speaking on behalf of the continent, noted that much still needs to be done.

“There is no doubt as to the fact that there is much to do between now and Montreal. We are deeply concerned by the fact that we still have various texts within brackets, and we have realized how impossible it was to get consensus during this meeting,” Senegal noted.

Africa has a lot at stake. Its living organisms comprise about a quarter of global biodiversity. It supports the earth’s largest intact assemblages of large mammals, which roam across the breadth of the vast continent.

However, this rich biodiversity is under threat and has been suffering massive decline due to population growth, extensive agricultural practices, rapid urbanization, infrastructure development and illicit trafficking, among others.

Africa representatives used the CBD meeting to reiterate their commitment to finding a balance worldwide for biodiversity and tackling issues still at stake.

They called for creating a biodiversity fund, with US$100 million per year made available for activities that support biodiversity and supporting knowledge transfer.

Several African countries had expressed concern over the slow pace of the proceedings and urged an acceleration of the process, with calls for various parties to show compromise in the negotiations.

Togo, echoing the sentiments expressed by Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DNC), called for an ambitious framework that could address the worrisome loss of biodiversity. They noted that the consequences of such losses would be dire for communities whose lifestyles are closely linked to biodiversity.

DRC tersely pointed out that some parties had multiplied the targets, leading to duplication of the issues under discussion — a move that further complicated the process and went against the speedy resolution envisaged during earlier talks in Geneva.

Togo additionally expressed its desire for progress on the issue of Digital Sequence Information on Genetic Resources (DSI).

DSI, a term not widely adopted by science and lacking a clear definition, is particularly used in international policy fora and refers to data derived from genetic resources.

Parties to the CBD recognize that countries have a sovereign right to regulate access to their genetic resources by requiring users to obtain prior informed consent and accept mutually agreed terms that ensure benefit sharing. In other words, a portion of the advantages or profits derived from use are shared with the providing country.

DSI has found applications in fields as diverse as medicine, food security, green energy production and biodiversity conservation. For example, free and open access to the SARS-CoV-2 viral sequences enabled the rapid development of diagnostic kits and vaccines.

It was first addressed in 2016 by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Conference of the Parties that convened in in Cancun, Mexico.

At the plenary, Namibia sought assurance that multilateral issues on DSI would be looked into. And Senegal, again speaking for Africa, called for integrating the use of information for DSI in the proposed global biodiversity fund.

DRC expressed reservations over the progress of the DSI conversation, noting that little had been achieved from initial engagements on the subject. DRC urged for a new methodology that would help expedite the conversation.

Animals gather at a waterhole in Etosha National Park in Namibia. Photo: Shutterstock/Toni Aules