It was in 2008 when Ecuador sent a strong signal to the world: the Rights for Nature had become an integral part of Ecuador’s constitution and Sumak Kawsay its guiding principle. The Quichuan expression Sumak Kawsay, simplified for us westerners to understand, stands for “Buen Vivir” and establishes an approach that goes beyond quantitative measurements. It’s a new vision for strengthening a holistic concept of nature, including not just the biodiversity in its complexity, but also spiritual aspects as well as calling for transparency and citizen participation. Six years later, Ecuador now hosts the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and welcomes hundreds of delegates from more than 100 countries, including civil society representatives, to discuss the future of migratory species – avian, terrestrial and marine globetrotters of Pacha Mama, mother earth.
Personally, the Ecuadorian concept is compelling, in particular for those of us who are conservationists, as it invites us to recall that even the most attractive concept, the most progressive political decisions within international fora only stand the test of time if they lead to concrete, measurable benefits for those they opt to protect. Critically speaking we can question why such a concept has not prevented the continued increase in exploration of resources even within strictly protected areas in Ecuador, but on a global scale many strong decisions adopted by the Member States of the Bonn Convention have also failed to change the situation for various species. This is not just generally speaking, but should provoke decision makers to reflect and civil society to speak out. It is then no surprise, and indeed a positive signal, that the implementation, compliance and enforcement of decisions are among the core topics at this year’s conference.
Two species challenging the oil and gas industry
The most recent IPCC report has been released this week, presenting us the concerning trends of climate change and its impacts. The CMS Conference will try to tackle the debate from a species perspective – putting two species in the spotlight of the debate:
The Cuvier Beaked Whale in the Mediterranean Sea
This strange looking, deep diving species is extremely sensitive to loud noise which is predominantly emitted by military activities as well as air-guns used within seismic surveys when searching for oil and gas resources in the seabed. The surveys emit up to 260 dB and pose the major threat and risk to these animals. A region where seismic surveys are intensively undertaken is currently the Mediterranean Sea, for instance in Greek, Croatian and Spanish waters.
The proposal put on the table at this meting to list this vulnerable whale species in Appendix I would result in strictest protection, including from anthropogenic noise. This effort was originally developed by the Spanish Ministry for Environment and ultimately submitted by the European Union. And while we, the wider conservation community, including OceanCare, NRDC, Humane Society International, WDC, Wild Migration and many others have welcomed this initiative, the continued ignorant activities by the oil and gas industry, in particular in European waters, need to be heavily criticized. This industry has not even stopped or slowed exploring for hydrocarbons within protected areas. And it is the Ministries for Energy and Economy that push licenses through process, often not even requesting that Environmental Impact Assessments are undertaken (e.g. Greece and Croatia) despite the same governments have agreed to international decisions that they should conduct an EIA at the last CMS conference in 2011.
A call to help the polar bear to survive
This call is submitted by the government of Norway which is bravely urging the international community to help mitigate the negative impacts of climate change to prevent the polar bear habitat from disappearing completely and to prevent this iconic species from becoming extinct. The proposal clearly lays out that Range States to the Arctic themselves won’t be successful without significant international support. This means that addressing all human activities, including industries from Non-Range States which put intensive pressure on the exploration and exploitation of the Arctic region, such as the oil and gas industry and international shipping.
So, there is a loud call out to support the EU and Norway with their initiatives to better protect polar bears and beaked whales and at the same time to call on all countries to improve implementation of conservation measures. This is also a call for a change in the energy policy around the globe. And at the end of the day, the measurement to review the success of such decisions is the status of the species we intend to protect. Our current testimony is one of failure. But our vision has to remain positive.
Consultant to OceanCare