Biodiversity and environmentalists at Lausanne 3 and Nagoya

By Bob Carling
3 Nov 2010

Many people will regrettably have no idea that 2010 has been declared by the United Nations as the ‘Year of Biodiversity’. [1] But what does the word ‘Biodiversity’ mean to most people – a kind of washing powder perhaps? [2]

Biodiversity, made famous by the USA president George Bush senior when he refused to sign the Biodiversity Convention treaty at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, is a shorthand word to describe the variety of genes, species and ecosystems of our world. In other words, biodiversity is shorthand for the rich diversity of the natural world on which we live.

Western democracy’s obsession with economic growth as the final arbiter of measuring society’s health largely ignores biodiversity, not even signifying in economic projections. Biodiversity, along with other environmental issues, comes into the category of what economists call “externalities”, a cost (or benefit), not transmitted through prices. But there clearly is an environmental cost to pay in the production of goods, as ecological economists, such as Robert Costanza, have been saying for many years.

Such calls for the true cost of human beings living on our planet to be used in economic decision making were under consideration by the nations of the world last week in Nagoya, Japan, at the tenth Conference of the Parties to the Biodiversity Convention (COP10), which came to a close on Friday 29 October 2010. [3]

In a speech leading up to COP10, The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, stressed that a rescue package similar to that introduced after the global financial crisis is urgently needed to halt the worldwide loss of biodiversity. [4] “We are bankrupting our natural economy,” he said. “All over the world, ecosystem services are a massive undervalued subsidy provided by the environment.” [5]

Ban Ki-Moon said: “We must stop thinking of environmental protection as a cost. It is an investment that goes hand-in-hand with the other investments that … Heads of State and Government, must make to consolidate economic growth and human well-being ... Maintaining and restoring our natural infrastructure can provide economic gains worth trillions of dollars each year. Allowing it to decline is like throwing money out of the window.”

This year was to be the year in which significant agreement was to be reached about the reduction in biodiversity loss:

In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention committed themselves to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.
This target was subsequently endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the United Nations General Assembly and was incorporated as a new target under the Millennium Development Goals.
[6]

Given that Christians believe that God created the world in which we live, what is their voice in this? In the week before COP10, a major gathering of evangelical Christians, the Lausanne 3 conference, took place in Cape Town, South Africa at which environmental issues had a place amongst the many issues being discussed.

But Sir John Houghton, founder of the environmental communications charity The John Ray Initiative, felt that among Christians there is evidence of much ignorance, apathy and non-urgency with environmental issues. Sir John, who spoke at Lausanne 3, [7] also talked of the opportunity for Christians to raise the profile of urgent issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss – both major themes raised at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. However, he and other Christian environmentalists are up against some powerful voices who feel that the creator God could not possibly condone a world in which environmental destruction exists. Some even felt that global climate change should not even be discussed at the Lausanne 3 conference.

However, despite these voices, the declaration at the end of that conference read much like a manifesto from a Christian environmental organisation:

Such love for God’s creation demands that we repent of our part in the destruction, waste and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility. We support Christians whose particular missional calling is to environmental advocacy and action and those committed to godly fulfilment of the mandate to provide for human needs from the abundance of God’s creation. We remind ourselves that the Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out, the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people. [8]

This is from Part 1 of the Lausanne 3 ‘Cape Town Commitment’ – Part 2, expected to be finished by December 2010, will be “a call to action arising from the listening process at the Congress”. It remains to be seen whether Part 2 will also contain a strong call to Christians for environmental action if the powerful anti-environmentalist voices have their way.

Meanwhile in Japan, agreement about the safeguarding of Biodiversity for future generations hung in the balance as the parties wrangled over where responsibility for the costly policy changes lies. The key issue that threatened to derail the negotiations was the thorny one of equitable benefit sharing from the wealth created from biodiversity, in particular the Access and Benefit-sharing (ABS) of genetic resources. [9] But COP10 did finally come to a substantial agreement. [10] As one journalist put it: “One of the great achievements of this conference has been to highlight the fact that biodiversity is not just about saving a few cute animals, but about preventing risks to entire ecosystems, economies and ultimately human life.” [11]

Fired by their commitment to a theology that takes seriously humans’ mandate to look after God’s world, there were Christians involved in the COP10 negotiations and Christian environmental organisations such as Christian Ecology Link have been supporting them in their endeavours. [12] Alongside the influence of The John Ray Initiative, other Christian environmental organisations such as A Rocha and Christian Ecology Link have for many years been tirelessly raising awareness of humanity’s responsibility for looking after God’s world. But they have only been partially successful in persuading Christians that to look after God’s world and mitigate the effects of global climate and the destruction of biodiversity is part of Christians’ calling.

At the close of the Lausanne 3 conference in South Africa, the Rev Doug Birdsall, Chairman of The Lausanne Movement, “sketched out plans for a series of Davos-like gatherings, drawing thought leaders from the Church and from mission agencies, from government, business and academia. The first is planned for June 2012.” [13] Let’s hope that important environmental issues, such as global climate change and the threat to biodiversity, are taken seriously by that Christian environmentalists and will feed into such initiatives.

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References

[1] See http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11546289
[3] See a short video from the UK’s Natural History Museum, making a plea for the importance of biodiversity to be recognized and protected http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/videos/1253
[4] http://bit.ly/aWrd1N
[5] http://bit.ly/9SOb65
[6] http://www.cbd.int/2010-target/
[7] “The Science of Global Climate Change. Facing the Issues. What are the Issues?” http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/conversations/detail/11013
[8] This is from section 7. of The Cape Town Commitment - A Declaration of Belief and a Call to Action Author: The Lausanne Movement Date: 24.10.2010 – see http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/conversations/detail/11544#article_p...
[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11649278
[10] Nature protection - the new road starts here http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/richardblack/2010/10/from_the_un...
[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/29/nagoya-biodiversity-su...
[12] http://www.christian-ecology.org.uk/nagoya.htm
[13] http://www.lausanne.org/news-releases/congress-closes-with-call-to-actio...

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© Bob Carling is a zoologist/pharmacologist with 30 years' experience in science and medical publishing. He is a writer and speaker on ‘science in society’, philosophy/theology of science and environmental ethics. Dr Carling advises Ekklesia on science-related issues (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/BobCarling).

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