Posted by: Hendra Siry | 25 February, 2010

Green Watch: Can the United Nations Environmental Summit In Bali Succeed?

Article by Jonathan Wootliff

The largest global environmental gathering since the Copenhagen climate change summit last year is now being held in Bali, where ministers from over 100 countries are convening together with scientists and ecology experts, business and non-governmental organizations. Arranged by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), participants are coming from all over the world for a wide range of different meetings taking place at the Bali International Conference Center all week.

In addition to the so-called 11th Special Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, there will be meetings of the parties to three important conventions about safeguarding the adverse impacts of chemicals and waste on the health of people and our the planet. As is the usual practice for UN meetings, the proceedings will be highly complex, constrained by international governance protocols and overwhelmed with jargon and acronyms that are guaranteed to make the gathering of little interest the general public.

Perhaps some of the gobbledygook will be dispelled thanks to a workshop being staged to “bring journalists into an active dialogue with experts, politicians and civil society leaders on current key environmental issues such as biodiversity loss, opportunities of the green economy and the future of environmental governance”. Forgive my cynicism, but the recent failure of the Copenhagen summit to deliver a legally-binding climate change treaty has left me wondering whether environmental protection is safe in the hands of the UN.

Grandly titled topics to be covered in the neatly-titled “Reporting Green” media workshop will be “Pricing Nature: The Economic and Social Value of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, “The Way Forward, Global Markets: The Green Economy Option” and “The International Year of Biodiversity”. There is no doubt that these are all vitally important issues, but the big question is whether any of the meetings in the beautiful resort of Nusa Dua will achieve anything more than just hot air. In spite of the disappointing outcome in Copenhagen, perhaps member states should be blamed, rather than the UN itself, which has many laudable specialist agencies doing much good in the world.

The brainchild of the United Nations Environmental Program, the International Year of Biodiversity, is a celebration of biological diversity and its value for life on Earth, and is meant to help raise awareness of the importance of biodiversity through activities and events in many countries, including Indonesia. Biodiversity is the scientific term for variety of life on Earth. It is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on.

Humans are a part of nature, but some of our activities are threatening the diversity of life on Earth, which is diminishing at a rapidly accelerating rate. Loss of biodiversity can be irreversible and damage the life support systems on which we depend for our very survival Indonesia is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity and may well be home to more species than any other country on Earth.

This country among the top five on plant diversity with an estimated 38,000 higher plant species; leading the world list in palm diversity with 477 species; and has over half of the 350 species of dipterocarp trees. Indonesia also ranks behind only Brazil and possibly Columbia in freshwater fish diversity, with around 1,400 species. The nation has long been a place of considerable interest to environmentalists and ecologists.

Sir Stamford Raffles, a well-known English naturalist, discovered the siamang, the world’s largest species of gibbon in Sumatra. Sulawesi is where entomological expert Anthony Bedford Russell identified a giant tree nymph named Idea tambusisiana, which has a wingspan of more than 17 centimeters. In 1911, the bird expert Erwin Stresemann collected an adult female of a beautiful species of crested starling at Bubunan on the northern coast of Bali known as Rothschild’s Mynah.

And this Green-Watch column has reported many other magnificent examples of Indonesia’s wealth in biodiversity. This week’s UN gathering in Bali is important to the future wellbeing of Indonesia and our planet. Unlike the Copenhagen meeting, the climate summit in Bali was universally regarded as a success, which was much attributed to the skillful diplomacy conducted by Indonesia.

Sadly, Rachmat Witoelar, the gracious Chair of that illustrious summit, has predicted that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is now doomed to failure. And it’s much respected Secretary-General, Yvo de Boer, has just announced he is moving to the private sector, conceding that “the real solutions must come from industry”.

Let’s hope that the inherent weaknesses in the UN systems and processes can be overcome again in Bali, for the sake of the world’s biodiversity. With the meetings being convened on the Island of the Gods, perhaps we can expect a triumphant outcome.
Jonathan Wootliff leads the Corporate Accountability practice at the consulting firm, Reputation Partners. He specializes in sustainable development and in building of productive relationships between companies and NGOs. He can be contacted at and can be followed on Twitter.

Source: The Jakarta Post – February 23, 2010


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