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Biodiversity Conference

An excellent article in Vox explains why the US is not a party to the Biodiversity Convention, despite America’s claim that it is very concerned about the environment. The only other UN member which is not a party is the Vatican Holy See. The other 192 UN members are parties.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is set to convene for its resumed Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) from December 7 to 19, 2022, in Montreal, Canada, with negotiators working to clinch a new global biodiversity framework (GBF) that will set a series of goals and underlying targets for a “nature-positive future.”

When I was deputy director of the State Department’s office for natural environmental issues, my boss, Eleanor Savage spent about a year in Nairobi as the US representative for the UN group drafting the Biodiversity Treaty. Meanwhile the climate environmentalists had been negotiating a climate change agreement to be approved at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro. On the UNCED agenda and eventually approved were the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity; and the Declaration on the principles of forest management  The US delegation was led by President George H.W. Bush. Bush needed the US government to be on board with whatever he approved in Rio. Surprisingly to me, Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, William Kristol, led the charge against US participation in the Biodiversity Convention. My boss’s boss, Assistant Secretary of State for the Environment, Curtis “Buff” Bohlen, was an environmentalist personally interested in preservation of the natural environment. He had been president of the World Wildlife Fund, and had been primarily responsiible for the CITES convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. No doubt he wanted the US to participate in the Biodiversity Convention, but President Bush said that because of political pressure from his Republican Party colleagues (like Bill Kristol) he could only sign one of the conventions, and the climate convention seemed like the most important one. As a result, the US is still not a party to the Biodiversity Convention to this day.

The Vox article has some additional interesting background on the US attitude towards the Biodiversity Conventon.

Since the early 1990s — when CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) was drafted, with input from the US — Republican lawmakers have blocked ratification, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority. They’ve argued that CBD would infringe on American sovereignty, put commercial interests at risk, and impose a financial burden, claims that environmental experts say have no support….

Among them [Republican concerns] was a fear that US biotech companies would have to share their intellectual property related to genetics with other countries. There were also widespread concerns that the US would be responsible for helping poorer nations — financially and otherwise — protect their natural resources, and that the agreement would put more environmental regulations in place in the US. (At the time, there was already pushback, among the timber industry and property rights groups, on existing environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act.)…

Many environmental groups and researchers say, yes, it does matter [whether the US joins] and are urging Biden to work with the Senate to ratify CBD. In a January 8 op-ed published in the Hill, Sarah Saunders, a researcher at the National Audubon Society, and Mariah Meek, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, wrote that “global biodiversity policy is at a pivotal crossroads, and the US needs to have a seat at the table before it is too late.” They also urged the US to fully fund the CBD secretariat, which oversees the convention.

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