Conference diplomacy and the world's growing commitment to sustainable development.

Author:Rangreji, Luther M.
Position:Conference notes

In 1972, having witnessed rapid industrialization and its attendant wealth, the international community met for the first time in Stockholm, Sweden, to ponder over the need for a global framework to protect the world's natural resources. Convened as the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE), the forum issued a declaration proclaiming that "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations". (1)

Clearly the Stockholm Declaration called upon "Man" not "States",

emphasizing an ecological and ecocentric approach wherein humans as the Earth's most highly evolved species had a major role to play in protecting the planet. Two decades later in 1992, a second multilateral meeting, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, reiterated a stronger, more anthropocentric approach in the Rio Declaration, stating that "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature". (2) The truth, however, is that by the time UNCED met, human health and wealth had grown manifold in the richer countries, as had hunger, poverty and disease in large parts of the developing world and the lesser developed States. In 1987, to balance developmental needs with environmental protection, the Brundtland Commission coined the term "sustainable development", which was defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". (3)

It is against this broad backdrop that an attempt is made to understand how multilateral diplomacy through global conferences (4) has demonstrated the world's commitment to sustainable development, particularly in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. At least three conference events that have contributed to strengthening sustainable development deserve special attention. First, the dynamics and pyrotechnics that sparked the negotiations and adoption of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); (5) second, the negotiations of the first major treaty under CBD auspices, namely the 2000 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; (6) and third, the negotiations and adoption of the 2010 Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, (7) as well as the 2010 Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. (8)

CBD was adopted with three major objectives: "... conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources". (9) Some of the main issues that States grappled with were: guiding principles and general obligations; jurisdiction; components of biodiversity; relationship with other international treaties; relationship with customary law; in situ and ex situ conservation; impact assessment; liability and redress; biotechnology and use of genetic resources; intellectual property rights; financial provisions; and a host of others which developed...

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