The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change draws to a close this weekend, but already, experts and public officials are already setting their sights on Montreal, where the 15th COP on Biodiversity is scheduled to take place in December.
Experts say there is an inseparable link between biodiversity and climate change. According to Jessica Bou Shrou of the Association of Forests, Development and Conservation based in Lebanon, a warming climate kills biodiversity and healthy biodiversity leads to a healthy climate. She was speaking in Sharm El Sheikh on November 16 –a day on which biodiversity was on the COP27 agenda.
“Whenever we carry out actions to preserve biodiversity and to preserve the sustainability of natural resources, we are in a way reducing climate change impacts,” she told Timescape Magazine.
“With climate change, species are going extinct, and changes in biological and ecological norms are being recorded. So, the climate is the main driver of change in biodiversity,” she said.
She said how the world deals with the question of climate change in Sharm El Sheikh will be key to the success of the COP15 in Montreal, Canada which will take place from December 7-19.
Ms. Shrou said delegates will be there to hash out a new global deal to stop the climate-induced decimation of wildlife populations as well as the continued degradation of landscapes.
According to the WWF and Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) biennial Living Planet Report, average wildlife populations have declined by a disturbing 69 per cent in just 50 years.
Heading to Montreal, campaigners in Sharm El Sheikh are calling for a “Paris Agreement for nature” under which countries will set national conservation targets and routinely report on the progress they have made.
Experts say the world needs to come together to preserve its biodiversity, with Cameroon’s Focal person for the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, (Access–Benefit–Sharing) Dr. Dingom Aurelie Taylor Patience telling Timescape Magazine that “is money buried in biodiversity.”
The Nagoya Protocol was signed in 2010 as an offshoot of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity.
Delegates to the Convention from developing countries had raised concerns that biological and genetic resources from their countries and communities were being used to grow western economies without any benefits accruing to the countries of origin of the resources. Those complaints led to the signing of the Nagoya Protocol eight years later.
Taylor said exploiting Africa’s vast biological resources in line with the prescriptions of the Nagoya Protocol has the possibility to unlock the continent’s economic potential.
She noted that Cameroon is blessed with vast biological resources and urged the Central African country and the rest of Africa to “mine that wealth, the same way oil is tapped from the ground.”
She referenced Brazil which gets 150 million US Dollars yearly from Prunus-a plant used in producing treatments for various ailments.
“We also have prunus. We can make similar benefits,” she said.
“The superpowers never wanted to sign up for the Protocol, because of the economic impact. They don’t want to share the benefits,” Dr. Dingom said.
The protocol, she said, however, requires that “companies using genetic resources should provide both monetary and non-monetary benefits to the communities where those products are exploited.”
“It’s a strong economic instrument,” she added.
She said Cameroon was already making efforts in this direction. In 2012, a French perfume company, V. Man Fils went into a partnership with a local NGO, the Environment and Rural Development Foundation, ERuDef, to support the exploitation of Echinops gianteus-a plant that is used worldwide in the cosmetics and food industries.
The plant grows mainly in the wild, but there are now efforts at planting it, given the likely financial rewards, said Louis Nkembi, the President and CEO of ERuDef.
“The Echinops gianteus plant species were inventoried, studied and this eventually led to the company signing an agreement with the government of Cameroon in 2015 to exploit a limited quantity to test the viability of this product,” Nkembi told Timescape Magazine.
He said Mutually Agreed Terms were then signed with the community that guaranteed the annual purchase of the raw material for 3 years at the rate of Euro 4.10 per kg. The company also agreed to pay 25 per cent of the profits directly accrued from this plant to the communities.
And so, for the first time, the wild plant began to be planted in efforts not only to promote it, but also as part of the ABS process, and restore the ecology of Mt. Bamboutous where it is mostly grown.
Besides Echinops, there has also been significant interest in other Cameroonian genetic resources from foreign companies.
“We have negotiated five ABS contracts with French and Swiss companies,” Dr. Taylor said.
She spoke about two local spices in Cameroon’s Pimbo community in the coastal regions, where a Swiss company has signed a research and development contract.
“The company says it has found some interesting results and wants to engage the commercial phase, but we want it to fulfil the contractual terms for the first three years that run out by the end of this year,” she said.
The company has to fund the development of a community farm and provide the community with solar electricity as well as potable water.
She said efforts to sign two other contracts with French cosmetic and food processing companies in the country’s East Region have been stalled, with the companies insisting they want exclusive intellectual rights to the genetic resources.
She didn’t name the companies, or the resources in question, citing confidentiality clauses, but noted that she was hopeful an agreement would eventually be reached for the communities to start making more benefits.
“We have a project that begins next year on four other species that have been identified in the South West and Far North Regions,” Dingom said, explaining that foreign companies are already interested in the four species.
Both Dingom and Nkembi agree that more needs to be done to ensure communities draw maximum benefits from biological resources they have preserved for years.
Current legislation mandates that in terms of benefit-sharing, local councils get 20% of the benefits while communities get 10%.
The experts believe that communities can best benefit if they master other ABS processes, noting that very often, the negotiations tend to go in the way of foreign companies.
“For any benefits to be real and substantial, both the government and the community need to have a total mastery of the process,” Nkembi told Timescape Magazine.
Dr. Taylor said she hopes COP15 scheduled for Montreal in Canada results in commitments to foster the transfer of technology as the best way by which developing countries can draw maximum benefits from their biological and genetic resources.
“The little they (exploiting companies) give us in terms of returns pales in comparison to the profits they make,” Dingom said.
For Jessica Bou Shrou, failing to halt the climate from warming will eventually decimate these resources, and with that, the benefits for communities would be wiped out.
This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.