International Development Law Organization

IDLO & Biodiversity : Not Just the Birds and the Bees

23 May 2013

“Biodiversity is not about saving one plant or bird at a time.”

So what is it about?

“Linkages,” explains IDLO’s Yolanda Saito, before pointing out that we should stop worrying about this or that cuddly species, and focus on the whole.

“Biodiversity is about joining it all up. It’s about that circle of life we call an ecosystem. More biodiversity means more opportunity – to find new cures for diseases, develop new technologies, create employment.” As International Biodiversity Day is celebrated this week (May 22nd), legal specialist Ms. Saito is keen to plug the concept into the very essence of development. Biodiversity, to her, is not a matter of sentimental attachment: it is integral to our economy, our future, our psychological wellbeing. Less pretty postcard, in other words, and more vital, complex mechanism. With us humans at its heart.

“We all depend on biodiversity. We all take medicines. We have jobs – whether you work as a carpenter, in a grocery store, or indeed as a biotechnologist. We all enjoy good food and clean water; a walk in the woods, a dive in the ocean. All of that is down to biodiversity.” So in all these years of talking about biodiversity – did we get it wrong? “I think we got it right, but focused on it wrong. In 1992 [in Rio de Janeiro], we agreed an International Convention that said we needed to do three things to save biodiversity: conserve it, sustainably use it, and share its benefits equitably.” But, Ms. Saito argues, only the first of these things got anything like enough attention. “We decided that we would fight for national parks, save endangered species, and that’s the best that we could do. It’s important, but we need to go beyond that. Yes, those Galapagos tortoises are beautiful to look at. But the Galapagos Islands are actually low in biodiversity – and costly to protect.” The message is clear: as well as an environmental goal, biodiversity must be a constant practice, embedded in social and economic policy.

A quick look at the Aichi Targets for 2020, drawn up in Japan three years ago, does appear to confirm this vision: Target no. 2, for example, talks of integrating biodiversity in poverty reduction strategies, planning processes, national accounting, and reporting systems. Other Targets include equitable management of natural resources, and the conservation of ecosystems which provide services to indigenous and vulnerable communities. IDLO is leading a global partnership on innovative legal approaches to achieving the Aichi Targets, launched with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A digital sharing platform is due to go live later this year, which IDLO hopes will become the premier forum for topical contributions and debate. It will feature new ideas, studies and how-to guides, developed by a large network of experts and researchers. The move speaks to IDLO’s triple role as thought leader, convener, and knowledge disseminator on law and development. Around the developing world, where the challenge is most acute, biodiversity-minded legal initiatives abound. But there has yet to be a systematic attempt to compile them, analyze them, and share good practices more widely:

  • In Kenya, the government and local fishing communities now jointly manage fish stocks which have been declining for many years. The law recognizes stakeholders as stewards of aquatic resources. The best of traditional knowledge is integrated; destructive fishing techniques are regulated. Women, whose role in sustainable development and food security is well documented, have been brought into the process, with the added benefit of social and gender empowerment.
  • Under Costa Rica’s law, the government remunerates land owners for the benefits provided by their forest ecosystems. A dramatic deforestation process has now been reversed. Another dividend of forest management has been job creation. Sustainable farming practices, meanwhile, are supplying cities with cleaner water, reducing the need for costly purification plants.
  • Gambia’s Forest Act stipulates a minimum national forested area of 30 percent. The country’s forests have been tiered into State, Community and Private. All, however, must be managed by a responsible authority. Communities’ predictable access to forest products has acted as a spur to small-scale enterprise.
  • What these legal initiatives have in common is the promotion of a collaborative (rather than competitive) model in natural resource management. The idea is to engage governments, communities and the private sector in low-impact, mutually beneficial wealth creation. The choice is not between biodiversity and economic growth, IDLO’s Ms. Saito says. Quite the opposite: “Biodiversity,” she stresses, “is the key to economic opportunity.” Interested in IDLO and Biodiversity? Click here to watch a video or visit www.idlo.org/AichiLaws. Want to join? Contact aichilaws@idlo.int.