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Solving nature loss: Child's play?
8 years ago

Richard Black | 12:16 UK time, Monday, 18 October 2010

From the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan:

"The children are the future," says Homer Simpson in a favourite quote from the TV series.

"We've got to stop them now..."




At the opening ceremony here, there was lots of talk of children being the future.

The caveat was, though, that we are stopping them - not in the sense that Homer meant it, I suppose, but in the sense that our generation's unsustainable use of nature's resources is going to stop future generations from having the prosperity they're entitled to.

And the Nagoya meeting was positioned as this generation's chance to put things right.


Jochen Flasbarth, head of Germany's Federal Environment Agency, was first on the scene, describing a simple test that government negotiators could deploy in order to tell whether they've done something positive for the world during their two weeks here.


"Imagine you come back home. Your kids are waiting for Mum or Dad coming from this strange conference somewhere in the world.

"Can you explain what you have done here in Nagoya? Can you explain and can you justify what you have done?"

Next up was Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who said in his speech that this two-week conference with its mountains of papers was actually about something very simple.


"When I speak to my two sons, seven- and nine-years-old, who sometimes get bored with their father talking about the environment, one thing that I see in them is an intuitive understanding that what we are trying to address here makes absolute sense as a child."

One of the childish things we put away as we become adults (and then government negotiators), he seemed to imply, is that intuitive understanding.

He was trumped, however, by CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf.



"Let's have the courage to look in the eyes of our children and admit that we have failed, individually and collectively, to fulfil the Johannesburg promise made [in 2002] by 110 heads of state to substantially reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.

"Let us look in the eyes of our children and admit that we continue to lose biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, thus mortgaging their future."

Invoking "the children" might seem a cheesey thing to do, although according to economists working with UNEP, Mr Djoghlaf is absolutely correct - the global economy will be worse off in the future because of the current generation's unsustainable habits.

It's like this, they say: nature has bequeathed us a world full of gold - but the gold comes in the form of trees and water and fish and clean air, insects that pollinate and worms that aerate soil, and myriad other things you can conjure up.

The more capital we draw from this bank, the less there is to produce interest for the next generation.


According to this picture, the real-world balance sheet is firmly in the red - and set to get redder, as the global population swells towards nine billion people and societies consume more, eating up ever more of nature's capital, meaning future generations will receive progressively less interest.

Do most delegates here accept the vision? I'm not sure - many come from countries that are getting richer, where lives are becoming easier, through conventionally-fuelled economic growth.


Even if they do, there are two problems.

One is that they cannot see their task here through childrens' eyes - they are diplomats, charged with promoting the national interest, however that might be defined by the governments they represent.

The other is that even the best intentioned parents don't always manage to do what's right by their children - as Homer Simpson would surely agree.





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