Into the Real World: A Millennial at the UNCBD COP14

Photo from ACB ED Mundita Lim. Sophia doing the dab right, at the bottom right

Photo from ACB ED Mundita Lim. Sophia doing the dab right, at the bottom right

I had read about UN CBD COP somewhere in our lecture slides back in college. I knew back then that this was where different Parties meet to discuss and negotiate issues related and relevant to biodiversity, and make decisions that must be translated into their national policies.

I thought that it was as simple as that, but I was totally wrong! There is nothing simple about the UNCBD COP.

There are remarkably numerous things that need to be done to halt biodiversity loss and understand other emerging issues. However, countries have different perspectives and vested interests that they need to protect. These make the process of consensus-building difficult at the COP. Developing and developed countries have opposite views on matters concerning their natural resources and the inclusion of vulnerable groups. Developed countries were likely to argue in favor of limiting the amount of support for developing countries, while developing countries sought to to protect their interests and and their natural resources from exploitation.

Every word matters at the UNCBD COP. We experienced negotiations that went around and about for one phrase or word to define the work and emphasize the value of a statement. At first, I thought that this is because words have different meanings. But as we proceeded, I realized that maybe some Parties place more value on the benefits that they could get from the environment, rather than the environment itself. This also made me wonder about the Philippines’ commitments under the UNCBD and to our future, that the slightest lapse in the use of a word could forgo our shared responsibility to the environment.

Throughout the conference, I thought Parties would never reach consensus on contentious agenda items, especially during the negotiations on Digital Sequence Information on genetic resources, because of different perspectives and word choice. Imagine having to reach a consensus between the 196 Parties of the Convention? It was tough! But at the same time, it was then that I admired the negotiators for asserting what they believe is right and just for their country.

However, a consensus was still necessary. Towards the last few days of the conference, we started hearing Parties appealing to “the spirit of compromise” and promising to “consult Capitol” about certain issues. In the end, the Parties reconsidered aspects of their stances to be able to meet halfway and come up with a decision. It was just amazing to see that despite our differences, we can still agree on something for the benefit of our environment and our future.

Where is the youth at the UNCBD COP?

Photo from Sophia

Photo from Sophia

The youth voice is everywhere in the UNCBD COP. They are volunteers for the Egyptian Government, providing support to all the Parties participating in the conference. They are part of the media, covering working group sessions and side events to increase awareness about the COP and opening discussions online about emerging issues. They are also negotiators emphasizing the important role of the youth and voicing out concerns.

I met the voice of the youth at the UN CBD COP – the Global Youth Biodiversity Network or GYBN. This is a network of young individuals and organizations that aims to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity and create connections between different youth organizations around the world to fight biodiversity loss. GYBN made history at the UNCBD, as they participated in COP11 in Hyderabad, India in 2012. This was the first acknowledgement of the participation of the youth in the decision-making process of the UNCBD.

This amazing network of young people is not only involved in negotiations, but each organization leads different initiatives in their home countries. These initiatives were the focus of their side event titled ‘Youth Initiatives for Biodiversity’ held last November 27, 2018. It was incredible to see how the youth work for the environment. Some of my favorite initiatives where from India, Germany, and of course, the Philippines.

In India, the Telangana Biodiversity Fellowship Program works on the ground with the indigenous peoples. Their program aims to conserve the indigenous knowledge in farming and herbal medicines that is slowly fading away, due to the lack of a national mechanism to preserve this knowledge and introduce it to the youth.

Germany has NAJU (Youth Association for the Protection of Nature) and NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union). Members of NAJU can be as young as 9 years old, and can already be involved in programs such as species conservation of bees and animals in the wild, environmental education through summer camps and youth campaigns, and campaigns for environmental policy . Older members of NAJU can continue their advocacies as members of NABU. This shows that being a steward of our environment is a whole-life commitment and that governments must have initiatives to instill this in the youth.

The Philippines shared an initiative to protect and conserve marine biodiversity called PaWeCan Do It. An initiative of marine biology graduates, this involves educating local communities, especially the youth in coastal areas, of the current state of their marine biodiversity and the importance of protecting it. They also reach out to the local government to help them protect the sea turtles that migrate to and lay eggs along the coasts.

The youth clearly have ways and means to push forward the efforts to protect and conserve biodiversity. However we cannot do this alone. It is a big fight to stop human-induced biodiversity loss and we need support from adults. The decisions and activities at the COP should motivate us further as we become stewards of the environment.

After the UNCBD COP, I am excited to see how all the decisions made at the conference will translate to our national policies. There is more work waiting here in the Philippines to put into action all the decisions made, thanks to our spirit of unity and compromise!