01 November 2010

Singapore and Nagoya 2010

It's official! The Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity has been endorsed for use globally!
Living reefs of Cyrene at sunrise
Singapore is "a small city-state with limited land resources, but rich in flora and fauna. It is our contribution towards ongoing global efforts on biodiversity conservation" said Minister Mah Bow Tan.

The Index is a "report card" scoring system where cities assess themselves with points allocated to 23 indicators for an overall quantitative score. This score will help cities make better decisions to prioritise conservation initiatives and evaluate their progress in reducing the rate of biodiversity loss. The Index has been tested by over 30 cities around the world.

Why bother with biodiversity in cities?

Cities and urban centres already house more than half the world's population. By 2050, that figure will be 70%.

Addressing the perception that urbanisation is a drain on natural resources, Mr Mah said: 'Cities will be the key to the solution, not, as many have portrayed, part of the problem.' For instance, he explained, Singapore has managed to increase its green corridors and connectors over time, and construct butterfly-attracting trails and havens for birds and insects in the city centre.

Mr Mah added, "Biodiversity can make cities stand out, and be a competitive advantage to attract talent and investments. It can drive economic growth, in areas such as pharmaceutical R&D, technology innovation and nature tourism."

As follow up, Singapore has also offered to host a Cities and Biodiversity Forum for Mayors during the next World Cities Summit to be held in mid-2012. At this Mayors Forum, cities can report on their progress in biodiversity conservation and the application of the Singapore Index. The deliberations of the forum can then be reported to CBD COP-11 in India in October 2012.

In Singapore, To enhance understanding of the Singapore Index, training on urban biodiversity conservation will begin in May 2011. Targeted at officials from cities and local authorities, participants will also learn about Singapore's experience and efforts in urban biodiversity conservation.

Nagoya 2010 and COP10
The Index was adopted at the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, just completed last week in Nagoya, attended by nearly 200 nations.

What are some of the key outcomes of COP10?

Agreed on rules for sharing the benefits from genetic resources from nature between governments and companies, a trade and intellectual property issue that could be worth billions of dollars in new funds for developing nations.

Agreed to take steps to put a price on the value of benefits such as clean water from watersheds and coastal protection by mangroves by including such "natural capital" into national accounts.

Agreed to protect 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. Currently, 13% of land and 1% of oceans are protected for conservation.

Agreed to declare 2011-2020 as the U.N. Decade of Biodiversity, a suggestion put forward by Japan.

Agreed to new actions to be taken by 2020 including:
  • Make people aware of biodiversity and what they can do.
  • Ensure that the values of biodiversity are integrated into national accounts and local development plans.
  • Eliminate, phase out or reform incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity.
  • Ensure sustainable production and consumption.
  • Bring down deforestation rates by half or close to zero.
  • Eliminate overfishing by managing and harvested sustainably, and recovery plans for all depleted species.
  • Manage agriculture, aquaculture and forestry sustainably
  • Reduce pollution.
  • Control or eradicate invasive alien species.
  • Restore at least 15% of degraded ecosystems.
  • By 2015, all countries to adopt a "national biodiversity strategy and action plan"
  • Tap traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities.
  • Improve and apply biodiversity knowledge, science and technologies.
  • Take a 'precautionary approach' in emerging areas, e.g., geo-engineering in order to combat climate change and biofuels development.

Some comments on these agreements:

Will impact business: "This isn't a boring protocol. It will regulate billions of dollars for the pharmaceutical industry":Tove Ryding, policy adviser for biodiversity and climate change for Greenpeace.

Helps the poor: "We finally have something that is going to give great results for the environment, for the poor people," who will be able to earn money in exchange for access to genetic materials: Karl Falkenberg, head of the European Commission's environment department

Not just about pandas: One of the great achievements of this conference has been to highlight the fact that biodiversity is not just about saving a few cute animals, but about preventing risks to entire ecosystems, economies and ultimately human life. As a result, bird-lovers and tree-huggers have started to find common cause with insurers and investors. Jonathan Watts guardian.co.uk

Any disappointments or limitations?

Targets for protecting areas of land and sea were weaker than conservation scientists wanted, as was the overall target for slowing biodiversity loss.

Funding is still an issue. Nations have two years to draw up plans for funding the plan. Current funding for fighting biodiversity loss is about $3 billion a year but some developing nations say this should be increased 100-fold.

Conservation groups warned that the agreement as it stands does not guarantee the erosion of species and ecosystems will be stopped.

The United States was not a signatory as it is one of the few countries not to have ratified the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

How does COP10 compare with the Copenhagen climate talks?

The climate talks at Copenhagen last year led to much disappointment and anger. The UN was fiercely criticised and the entire multilateral negotiating process called into question. It seemed time-consuming, prone to grandstanding and dominated by selfish national interests rather than pressing global concerns.

At the start, COP10 looked likely to become another chapter in the same sorry story. But as the talks continued, there was an impressive – and ultimately successful – willingness to work. Square brackets (which denote areas of disagreement) have been steadily whittled away from the negotiating texts. Pragmatism has been more evident than ideology. Delegates actually seemed willing to listen to the advice of scientists warning of the perils of inaction.

For more about a comparison of COP10 and Copenhagen, see "Goodwill and compromise: Nagoya biodiversity deal restores faith in UN" Jonathan Watts guardian.co.uk 29 Oct 10; also on wildsingapore news.

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