Conscience must triumph over theatrics in Nagoya
COP10: Cop out or Co-evolve?
Feature article by Eric Johnston
Kyoto Journal's special Biodiversity Issue
Delegates, when you arrive in Nagoya, Japan this October for the UN’s 10th conference on biodiversity, you’ll be meeting at a decisive moment. For the agreements you reach, or fail to, at COP10* may well determine whether many forms of life survive or die out — including the large-brained, spiritually-inclined but as yet self-defeating, toolmaking ape, a relative newcomer to this biodiverse world.
Moreover, given the bitter failure of last December’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, what you achieve in Nagoya will affect not only biodiversity but also global warming. COP10 in Japan is the last major UN conference before the world gathers in Mexico in late November for yet another round of climate change talks. Delegates and NGOs heading to Cancun will be nervously watching the outcome of your negotiations, and your success or failure will directly impact their chances for reaching a climate change agreement that makes a genuine difference.
But in and of itself, COP10 is extremely important. One of the most idealistic yet crucial goals is to secure a treaty committing your nations to binding targets for preserving biodiversity over the coming decade. Make no mistake: Nagoya is not merely an excuse for another UN gabfest. As UN negotiators, you know that UN meetings are like sausage-making — slow, messy, involving all manner of ingredients, and observed with a feeling of queasiness. That said, unless the UN process, including its limitations, is understood by conference veterans and rookies alike, COP10 will be fated to fail before the microphones are even switched on. This need not happen.
To participants and lay readers alike: Whether you’re sitting in the main hall, back in the pressroom, manning an NGO booth, or following the conference from far away with ever-increasing concern, you have a role to play. Here, then, for readers at all levels of involvement, is a basic guide to what takes place at UN conferences — your program notes, as it were, for COP10. Based on years of personal experience and spiced with anecdotal chagrin, what follows may shed some light on how we can progress from mere good intentions to a binding United Nations treaty.
Step One: The Script
Every UN conference begins with a draft text of the proposed treaty, the codex upon which official discussions proceed. The text that arrives in Nagoya will already have been edited countless times. And the working draft for COP10 will make for heavy reading: drafts of UN treaties can run to more than 200 pages, and their dense jargon, Delphic phrasing and alphabet soup of acronyms makes deciphering the exact meaning of many of their phrases, let alone sentences or paragraphs, a daunting task.
During negotiations, each line of text is debated, criticized, parsed for hidden meaning, and analyzed for implications regarding matters of international and domestic concern, whether political, social, economic, scientific, ethnic, gender-related, or religious. Provided all goes smoothly, delegates will agree to the final wording. But imagine a room teeming with politicians, lawyers, academics, editors and interpreters, each cluster representing one of up to 193 UN member countries, aided in turn by UN staff, all trying to reach agreement. Now picture each of these individuals having to check with their bosses back home to see if the proposed compromise wording, or even a newly inserted adjective, meets with approval. By comparison, The Council of Nicaea was a church picnic.