‘The Future We Want’ delivers little for migratory wildlife

23rd June 2012

Asian Elephants. Photogrpahy: Ahimsa Campos-ArceizThe United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) conference (20th – 22nd June 2012) and hundreds of related events have now concluded in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Finally, the extensively negotiated ‘The Future We Want’ document has been adopted.

Perhaps the most telling comment is from the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging world leaders to build on the commitments they made during Rio+20 to achieve economic, environmental and social prosperity for people all over the world. Rather than setting our a brave new agenda, Ban Ki-moon said that “Rio+20 has affirmed fundamental principles – renewed essential commitments – and given us new direction.”

We have reviewed ‘The Future We Want’. While acknowledging that all activities taken by Governments at least indirectly impact the survival of wildlife around the world, of the document’s 283 paragraphs a mere 30 directly relate to our collective work to protect migratory wildlife.

Wildlife and ecosystems
Para 4: [We]reaffirm the need to achieve sustainable development by ... promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports inter alia economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges.

Para 16: We reaffirm our commitment to fully implement [past commitments to sustainable development]

Para 203. We recognize the important role of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, environment and development; promotes the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; should contribute to tangible benefits for local people; and ensures that no species entering into international trade is threatened with extinction. We recognize the economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit trafficking in wildlife here firm and strengthened action needs to be taken on both the supply and demand sides. In this regard, we emphasize the importance of effective international cooperation among relevant multilateral environmental agreements and international organizations. We further stress the importance of basing the listing of species on agreed criteria.

Addressing threats to wildlife
Para 25: We acknowledge that climate change is a cross-cutting and persistent crisis … we underscore that combating climate change requires urgent and ambitious action, in accordance with the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC.

Para 158: We recognize that oceans, seas and coastal areas form an integrated and essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem and are critical to sustaining it and that international law, as reflected in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), provides the legal framework for the conservation and the sustainable use of the oceans and their resources.

Para 162: We recognize the importance of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction. We note the ongoing work under the UN General Assembly of an Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction. Building on the work of the ad hoc working group and before the end of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly we commit to address, on an urgent basis, the issue of the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction including by taking a decision on the development of an international instrument under UNCLOS.

Para 163: We note with concern that the health of oceans and marine biodiversity are negatively affected by marine pollution, including marine debris, especially plastic, persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and nitrogen-based compounds, from a number of marine and land-based sources, including shipping and land runoff. We commit to take action to reduce the incidence and impacts of such pollution on marine ecosystems, including through the effective implementation of relevant conventions adopted in the framework of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the follow up of the relevant initiatives such as the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, as well as the adoption of coordinated strategies to this end. We further commit to take action to, by 2025, based on collected scientific data, achieve significant reductions in marine debris to prevent harm to the coastal and marine environment.

Para 166: We call for support to initiatives that address ocean acidification and the impacts of climate change on marine and coastal ecosystems and resources. In this regard, we reiterate the need to work collectively to prevent further ocean acidification, as well as enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems and of the communities whose livelihoods depend on them, and to support marine scientific research, monitoring and observation of ocean acidification and particularly vulnerable ecosystems, including through enhanced international cooperation in this regard.

Para 168: We commit to intensify our efforts to meet the 2015 target as agreed to in JPOI to maintain or restore stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield on an urgent basis. …

Para 169: We urge State Parties to the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of UNCLOS relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks to fully implement it …

Para 172: We recognize the need for transparency and accountability in fisheries management by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) …

Para 177: We reaffirm the importance of area based conservation measures, including marine protected areas consistent with international law and based on best available scientific information as a tool for conservation of biological diversity and sustainable use of its components. We note decision X/2 of the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, that by 2020, 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are to be conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.

Para 190. We reaffirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally. … we emphasize that adaptation to climate change represents an immediate and urgent global priority.

Para 205: … We stress that desertification, land degradation, and drought are challenges of a global dimension and continue to pose serious challenges to the sustainable development of all countries, in particular developing countries. …

Para 210: We recognize that ... [f]ragile mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, land use change, land degradation, and natural disasters; and mountain glaciers around the world are retreating and getting thinner with increasing impacts on the environment and human well-being.

The role of civil society, including the provision of science
Para 43: We ... agree to work more closely with Major Groups and other stakeholders and encourage their active participation, as appropriate, in processes that contribute to decision making, planning and implementation of policies and programmes for sustainable development at all levels.

Para 44: We acknowledge the role of civil society and the importance of enabling all members of civil society to be actively engaged in sustainable development.

Para 53: We note the valuable contributions that non-governmental organizations could and do make in promoting sustainable development through their well-established and diverse experience, expertise and capacity, especially in the area of analysis, sharing of information and knowledge, promotion of dialogue and support of implementation of sustainable development.

Para 204: We take note of the establishment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and invite an early commencement of its work, in order to provide the best available policy-relevant information on biodiversity to assist decision-makers.

Political will
Para 18: We are determined to reinvigorate political will and to raise the level of commitment by the international community to move the sustainable development agenda forward, through the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals. We further reaffirm our respective commitments to other relevant internationally agreed goals in the economic, social and environmental fields since 1992. We therefore resolve to take concrete measures that accelerate implementation of sustainable development commitments.

Para 39: We recognize that the planet Earth and its ecosystems are our home and that Mother Earth is a common expression in a number of countries and regions and we note that some countries recognize the rights of nature in the context of the promotion of sustainable development. We are convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environment needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature.

Para 197: We reaffirm the intrinsic value of biological diversity, as well as the ecological, genetic, social, economic, scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and aesthetic values of biological diversity and its critical role in maintaining ecosystems that provide essential services, which are critical foundations for sustainable development and human well-being. We recognize the severity of global biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems … [which] … highlights the importance of the conservation of biodiversity, enhancing habitat connectivity and building ecosystem resilience. …

Para 198: We reiterate our commitment to the achievement of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and call for urgent actions that effectively reduce the rate of, halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. In this context, we affirm the importance of implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention.

Global environmental governance
Para 76: We recognize that effective governance at local, sub-national, national, regional and global levels representing the voices and interests of all is critical for advancing sustainable development … [and] We therefore resolve to strengthen the institutional framework for sustainable development, which will, inter alia:
(b) be based on an action- and result-oriented approach giving due regard to all relevant cross-cutting issues with the aim to contribute to the implementation of sustainable development;
(g) promote the science-policy interface through inclusive, evidence-based and transparent scientific assessments …;
(h) enhance the participation and effective engagement of civil society and other relevant stakeholders in the relevant international fora and in this regard promote transparency and broad public participation and partnerships to implement sustainable development;

Para 77: We acknowledge the vital importance of an inclusive, transparent, reformed and strengthened, and effective multilateral system in order to better address the urgent global challenges of sustainable development today, recognizing the universality and central role of the United Nations…

Para 84: We decide to establish a universal intergovernmental high level political forum, building on the strengths, experiences, resources and inclusive participation modalities of the Commission on Sustainable Development, and subsequently replacing the Commission.

Para 85: The high level forum could:
provide political leadership, guidance, and recommendations for sustainable development;
(f) encourage high-level system-wide participation of UN Agencies, funds and Programmes …;
(h) promote transparency and implementation through further enhancing the consultative role and participation of Major Groups and other relevant stakeholders at the international level in order to better make use of their expertise, while retaining the intergovernmental nature of discussions;
(k) strengthen the science-policy interface through review of documentation bringing together dispersed information and assessments, including in the form of a global sustainable development report, building on existing assessments;

Para 88: We are committed to strengthening the role of the United Nations Environment Programme as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda, that promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system and that serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment. … we invite the United Nations General Assembly, in its 67th Session, to adopt a Resolution strengthening and upgrading UNEP in the following manner:
(c) Enhance UNEP’s voice and ability to fulfil its coordination mandate within the UN system by strengthening UNEP engagement in key UN coordination bodies and empowering UNEP to lead efforts to formulate UN system-wide strategies on the environment;
(d) Promote a strong science-policy interface, building on existing international instruments, assessments, panels and information networks, including the Global Environmental Outlook, as one of the processes aimed at bringing together information and assessment to support informed decision-making;
(h) Ensure the active participation of all relevant stakeholders drawing on best practices and models from relevant multilateral institutions and exploring new mechanisms to promote transparency and the effective engagement of civil society.

Para 89: We recognize the significant contributions to sustainable development made by the multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). We acknowledge the work already undertaken to enhance synergies among the three Conventions in the chemicals and waste cluster (the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions). We encourage parties to MEAs to consider further measures, in these and other clusters, as appropriate, to promote policy coherence at all relevant levels, improve efficiency, reduce unnecessary overlap and duplication, and enhance coordination and cooperation among MEAs, including the three Rio Conventions as well as with the UN system in the field.

Para 193: … We call for enhanced efforts to achieve the sustainable management of forests, reforestation, restoration and afforestation, and we support all efforts that effectively slow, halt and reverse deforestation and forest degradation … We call for increased efforts to strengthen forest governance frameworks and means of implementation, in accordance with Non-Legally Binding Instrument on All Types of Forests (NLBI) to achieve sustainable forest management. …


Not surprisingly, many sections of civil society are scathing about the results, calling the conference result a ‘squandered opportunity’. For the Migratory Wildlife Network there are a considerable number of areas missing from this final document, including the role of Ramsar, World Heritage and the Convention on Migratory Species. ‘Wildlife’ is only mentioned explicitly in relation to sustainable tourism and CITES. There is considerable detail missing on the threats faced in the oceans, and there is no mention of addressing terrestrial or marine transboundary issues. That a significant level of science already exists on which to base decisions is not well acknowledged, nor is there meaningful commitment to actually addressing issues of shared concern, such as climate change, especially where impacts are being unequally felt. None-the-less, as Ban Ki-moon emphasises, the document has re-affirmed fundamental principles, renewed essential commitments. Some $513 billion in funding has been committed for several issues, including energy, food security, access to drinking water and management of the oceans, among others areas.

In the coming week we will provide a more thorough assessment of ‘The Future We Want’ and its implications for wildlife. In the meantime we agree with Ban Ki-moon: “The speeches are over. Now the work begins.”