Biodiversity Politics: The Good, the Bad and the 4 COPs

From prehistoric mass extinctions to human-influenced present day, here are the landmarks of life.

CANADA WAS an active and enthusiastic negotiator in the early days of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It was the first industrialized country to ratify the CBD, and Montreal is home to the CBD’s secretariat.

CANADA WAS an active and enthusiastic negotiator in the early days of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It was the first industrialized country to ratify the CBD, and Montreal is home to the CBD’s secretariat.

But the warm internationalist glow has rapidly faded. “I sometimes find myself feeling sorry for the individuals on Canada’s delegation,” notes Pat Mooney, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (the alternative Nobel Prize) and current executive director of the Ottawa-based ETC group. “They are nice people – serious professionals – but they find themselves playing the bad guy. From being the UN’s ‘honest broker,’ Canada has become the bête noire everybody loves to hate. Who killed Mike Pearson?”

Conference of the Parties (COP) 7 – 2004, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Canada (along with New Zealand) opposes the recognition of the rights of Indigenous and local communities in relation to the establishment, planning and management of protected areas.

COP 8 – 2006, Curitiba, Brazil
International civil society labels Canada, along with Australia and New Zealand, as the biggest “party poopers” for “continuously attempting to undermine the CBD across every area of the negotiations.” The same threesome, plus the US (a non-party to the CBD) try to undermine the moratorium on field testing and commercial use of Terminator technologies by calling for a case-by-case risk assessment approach instead. At one of the many rallies in support of the moratorium held in Curitiba, Karen Pedersen, a beekeeper from Canada, expresses her fury and encourages everyone in attendance to join her in saying: “Go home Canada. Go home!” Despite the efforts of Canada, the US and the corporate lobby, the CBD moratorium on Terminator is maintained and even strengthened.

COP 9 – 2008, Bonn, Germany
Canada is identified as a “blocker” in eight areas, including agricultural biodiversity, biofuels, genetically modified trees and protected areas, and only once as a “helper,” in marine and coastal issues. Along with Brazil, Colombia, New Zealand and Australia, Canada actively blocks a recommendation to suspend the release of genetically modified trees. The suspension, proposed by all African governments, has broad international support from NGOs, Indigenous Peoples and many European parties. “There is so much that is unknown about genetically modified trees,” states a government representative from Ghana during the negotiations. “In particular, gene transfer may not be seen in our lifetime. We cannot create an intergenerational problem to add to the legion of problems left to our children and grandchildren.” Canada raises the ire of developing countries in the Access and Benefit-sharing (see “Biodiversity™”, page 20) negotiations by claiming it does not have a mandate from its government to negotiate a legally binding regime, thereby blocking progress. The Chinese delegate calls on Canada to phone home for help: “With all respect delegate from Canada, report to capital for further instruction. Call home. It is only noon there.”

COP 10 – 2010, Nagoya, Japan
It looks as if Canada will continue its parochial approach. At pre-COP negotiations in Nairobi, Canada (along with New Zealand) continues blocking and bracketing any use of the term “Indigenous Peoples”, the strong terminology used in the almost universally adopted UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has yet to ratify. Canada is expected to make a splash in the final negotiations surrounding the Access and Benefit- sharing protocol and is being accused of protecting the interests of industry above all. Chee Yoke Ling, legal advisor to the Third World Network, a Malaysia-based NGO, notes,

The long years of work under the Convention to fight against biopiracy is really about correcting an historical injustice where the seeds, plants and even microbes of developing countries and the rich knowledge of their Indigenous peoples, farmers and fisherfolk have been plundered for commercial profits without prior informed consent and fair sharing of the benefits. Canada is not only blocking a legally binding treaty on Access and Benefit-sharing, it has introduced totally inappropriate trade concepts such as ‘non-discrimination’ into what should be an agreement on biodiversity and justice. By doing so, Canada continues to allow a perpetuation of biopiracy.

In 2008, Greenpeace advisor and professor Doreen Stabinsky described Canada as having a “tradition of blocking, diluting and delaying progress on key items.” Consequently, Stabinsky called for the Secretariat to the CBD to be moved to “Anywhere but Canada.”

For civil-society views on CBD negotiations, visit, a website of the CBD Alliance, a network of organizations focused on tracking and influencing CBD negotiations.

Jessica Dempsey co-founded the Convention on Biological Diversity Alliance. She is a Trudeau Scholar, a Liu Scholar, and a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia.