On the last day of the UN Climate Change (June 17-27, 2019) meeting in Bonn the key IPCC report on 1.5 C was blocked from further discussion by Saudi Arabia and an unlikely set of allies: the US, Iran and Russia. The report as the saying goes has been deep-sixed meriting only a five-para watered down waffle at the end of the agreement, so what next?
If the Paris Agreement was transformative in its democratic innovation, its voluntary aspects opened up the possibility of countries failing to meet their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) targets. These are at the heart of the Paris agreement and their voluntary nature invites democratic engagement — the example of Greta Thunberg and her mushrooming support comes to mind. Even more necessary after the Bonn meeting, democratic pressure on governments is vital to counter the fossil fuel lobby.
Also the climate change debate is framed around two temperature figures, the famous 1.5 C and 2 C scenarios. We need a rallying cry but the fact is temperature is an amorphous goal. We cannot ask countries to reduce temperature by a certain number because the whole earth is involved and it is beyond individual capacities; hence the target NDCs, the rather dull but practical numbers.
When the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first released its famous (now banished) 1.5 C report last October, it set off alarms. Comprising the work of hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, it predicted a grim future and a narrowing window of action. It examined a 1.5 C rise in mean global temperature from preindustrial levels, comparing it with a 2 C rise. We are already experiencing the effects of being 1 degree above, and according to the report should reach the 1.5 C level as early as 2040. The 1.5 C and 2 C figures result from simulation exercises, although by undoubtedly respected and expert scientists.
At 1.5 C above, the report states, 70-90 percent of the world’s sea corals would be lost (with a 2C rise 99 percent would be gone); the Arctic sea ice would be in fast retreat threatening polar bears and raising sea levels; and with higher ocean temperatures we can expect worsened severe storms, rain and flooding.
There is worse for at a 2C rise the cycle becomes self-sustaining, meaning a runaway feedback loop cycle. Clearly the Paris agreement, holding temperature increase to 2C, is no longer viable if we are not to leave behind a raging planet to our children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Paris itself is facing a heat wave with temperatures expected to exceed 40 C (104 F) and national records for June temperatures likely to be shattered. Europe as a whole is experiencing the same, although it made little difference to the dissenters in sweltering Bonn. While climate change is usually not blamed directly for short-interval, extreme weather events, a warmer earth is still likely to be an exacerbation, and scientists might well be able to prove a closer link as research in this area matures. At the very least, it makes intuitive sense.
It has already been hot further north. Greenland had temperatures 40 F above normal in mid-June. It caused an early, unprecedented ice melt when it is more usual for big melts to occur in July. On just one day (June 13, 2019), scientists estimated a melt of 2 billion tons. If Greenland experienced a record melt in 2012, then 2019 could be a year that might surpass it. The problem of high temperatures and above normal ice melt spans the Arctic. Moreover in the Antarctic, the coldest regions, long believed to be immune, are beginning to show signs of melting.
Foreshadowing the 1.5 C report, the expected consequence has been a rise in ocean levels. These are already 7 centimeters (about 3 inches) higher than in the 1990s (keyfinding 1) of the Climate Science Special Report. Human-caused climate change is considered a major culprit. The reported rise is accelerating and is now at a rate of 3.9 millimeters a year, or about an inch every 6 years.
Coastal land flooding and loss is no longer just a problem faced by The Maldives in the Indian Ocean, or some Pacific Islands. Low-lying cities like Norfolk, Virginia have begun to flood at high-tide. This nuisance tidal flooding is expected to increase 5 to 10 fold (keyfinding 4).
Changing weather patterns also have other consequences. In California, large fires now burn twice the area they did 50 years ago, and are expected to be tripling that same area by 2050. Future projections point to both larger fires and a longer fire season. Some consequences run counter to presumptions and surprise us. Who would have expected a heat wave in Canada to kill more than 90 people in 2018? It is not the only example. The UK suffered debilitating summer heat in 2018 and 2017, and a heat wave engulfed southern Europe in 2018, where Portugal and Greece were also hit somewhat unusually by wildfires. The same in the Southern Hemisphere, for in Australia the wildfire season now starts earlier, is longer and more devastating. In Spain, a 10,000 acre fire is raging right now, caused by extreme heat self-igniting a manure pile.
The U.S. ‘National Climate Assessment’ last November did not mince words when its overview concluded: “The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming … the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country.” The assessment is mandated by Congress and affirmed by science agencies of the government.
President Trump, who religiously opposes climate change believing it to be a natural phenomenon that will reverse itself also naturally, had a brief response: “I do not believe it.” About the report’s estimated economic impacts, Sarah Sanders, his then press secretary, claimed the report was “not based on facts.” The “facts” on which the Trump administration reached its conclusions have not been released. The source of these quotes, Science, is the principal organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It has labeled the gap between action and what is demanded by the worsening climate-fueled weather disasters as the policy ‘breakdown of the year’. About the current administration, one prominent scientist, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, was moved to remark, “They’re in la-la-land.”
Sadly this la-la-land is not harmless because the US changing tack on climate action gives other countries leeway to do the same. One example: Brazil’s new (this year) right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, has promised to open more of the Amazon rain forest for development reversing its CO2 capture into more CO2 emission. CO2 happens to be the most sensitive gas to the heat radiation wavelengths reflected from earth, returning more back.
So we have rising temperatures and scientifically ignorant politicians but all is not lost. It is quite likely we will fall short of the 1.5 C target. Yet the plain fact is there will not be a clash of cymbals and the world will not end with a bang. All that will happen will be a greater reliance on carbon capture directly with its fast developing technology, or indirectly through means such as afforestation. In short, to stop hothouse earth, we have to start removing CO2 from the air.
Carbon capture from the atmosphere has been difficult and expensive. A better alternative might be to remove it at the source. That means at power stations and factories, plus there are new processes offering hope. These include a powder that soaks up CO2 before it is expelled into the air. For CO2 already in the atmosphere, there is a resin in the form of resin trees to absorb it, and a company that promises to capture air CO2 and turn it into fuel. Yet most carbon emission comes from transportation, so it also points to a future of electric cars.
That is also the thesis of Greg Ballard’s book, “Less Oil or More Caskets.” The book’s title refers to the human and military cost of protecting the free flow of oil. A former Marine Lt. Colonel and two-term Republican mayor of Indianapolis, he is a long-term advocate of electric cars and rapid-transit electric buses, the latter underway in Indianapolis. He even managed to secure federal grants despite Trump’s opposition, proving both that Trump is not unassailable and a few Republicans are finally seeing the light.
Another avenue of individual involvement is dietary change for a sustainable future — in itself clearly at odds with the zealous consumption of meat in rich countries. Ruminants release methane through belching as food passes through their several stomachs. Over their agricultural cycle, cattle alone emit 270,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas per tonne of protein, many times more than poultry. As some have noted if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the Beyond Burger type of substitutes from vegetable sources. If it doesn’t quite make the taste test for some, there is the intriguing potential of lab-grown meat — no animals involved.
This and other innovations have been described not unappetizingly in the National Geographic. For example, crickets are an excellent source of protein offering more protein per pound than beef and their production leaves a tiny ecological footprint in comparison. Ground up into powder, this protein can be added to flour or other foods. Kernza is a perennial grain and a substitute for wheat and corn but without their annual tilling which robs the soil of nutrients and also causes erosion. There is also a new oil made from algae. Sourced originally from the sap of a German chestnut tree, it has been developed further to yield more oil, and is being sold under the name Thrive. With a neutral taste and high smoke point, it makes an excellent substitute for the environmentally destructive palm oil, where plantations have ravaged forests in Indonesia and imperiled orangutans.
All this innovation demonstrates that although the window to act narrows by the day, climate change is not unassailable, provided there is the wherewithal (clearly absent in this administration) to make the urgent and necessary changes in public policy — for example, investment in carbon capture research to make costs viable. In addition, we need the commitment to make changes in our own lives.
Author’s Note: This article first appeared on Counterpunch.
Sea-Level Rise Could Sink The U.S. Southeast: How To Fight It As Individuals
Authors: Dr. Arshad M. Khan and Meena Miriam Yust
The latest news on rising sea levels can be described as another example of human folly. The Anthropocene has seen plant extinctions, animal extinctions, both at an unforeseen pace, and now there is not only worsened coastal flooding but a vast area of low-lying south-eastern United States eventually could be under water. Who says so? And with what level of confidence can we make such a prediction?
An assessment by 106 specialists, who study sea-levels and were selected on the basis of peer-reviewed published research, projects a meter rise by century’s end. Earlier, in September 2019, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report estimating, with statistical confidence levels, a global mean sea level rise of 0.3 to 1.1 meters by 2100. Present sea levels are already about a foot higher than in the 1970s, and coastal communities are experiencing chronic flooding that is worsened by storm surges and extreme rainfall events — now more frequent due to climate change.
If global warming remains within 2 degrees Celsius, the experts estimate a sea level rise limited to an average 0.5 meters by 2100 and to between 0.54 — 2.15m by 2300. This is the scenario resulting from the Paris Agreement. However, Donald Trump representing a country that is one of the major contributors to climate warming has already withdrawn from the Paris accord.
The earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1C since the preindustrial era but the trajectory uncontrolled is expected to lead to another 3.5C rise by 2100. This predicts a 0.63 — 1.32m sea-level rise by 2100. But by 2300, this scenario also means a possible 1.8m increase from melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets as noted by the experts with knowledge of this aspect of climate change. The resulting total rise by 2300 is then estimated at 1.67 – 5.61m. To those of us used to thinking in terms of the English system, the last figure amounts to 18ft. 5ins.
Consider that some 10 percent of the world’s population or about 770 million people live on land less than 5m above high tide levels. Consider also that the scenarios above are based on mean sea levels. It implies there are areas with lower seas — the lucky coastal areas — but also the unfortunates living beside higher seas in low-lying regions. Hence, the unfortunate southeast of the US.
If the figures quoted previously are not scary enough, it is worth noting what happened during the melting of the Eurasian ice sheet 14,000 years ago — it raised sea levels by 8 meters or 26 1/4 feet. All of which leads once again to the question of what we can do as individuals to alleviate global warming in the age of Trump, a man who believes climate change is a hoax. Thanks to him making an ass of himself during his coronavirus news conferences, there is a chance he may not be around.
As individuals, aside from avoiding unnecessary auto trips and walking short distances, one of the best things we can do is to eat less beef (lamb is even worse, pork much less). As ruminants, cows emit gases, mostly methane when chewing their cud and then also from the other end — although there is now hope for a vaccine that can inactivate the digestive bacteria causing it. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat. It is why livestock cause 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity. It is said, if cows were a country, they would rank third in emissions.
On the positive side, replacing meat with poultry, fish, vegetables and fruit — the Mediterranean diet — helps us live longer, healthier lives. So, what do we have to lose?
Development but Not At The Cost Of Biodiversity: A Plan For “Living In Harmony With Nature”
Authors: Partha PratimMitra and Prakash Sharma*
The United Nations General Assembly in 2006 adopted 22nd May every year as the International Day for Biological Diversity.The day commemorates the adoption of the agreed text of the Convention on Biological Diversity(CBD).This year’s slogan is “Our solutions are in nature”, which emphasizes upon ‘hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels’, and a future built in harmony with nature. This year is important because it is the final year for three major instrument, namely United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020), the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
The year is also important because CBD is revising and working on another strategic plan to adopt post-2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping stone towards the 2050 vision of “Living in harmony with nature”. The present paper discusses how ‘biodiversity’ is central to the development of environment discourse, especially when issues concerning ‘biodiversity’ makes international negotiations and agreements controversial and highly politicized. Amongst issues, perhaps three appears to be crucial i.e. national sovereignty; conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; access and sharing of benefits of biodiversity.
CBD was signed in the year of 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development(the Rio Earth Summit).CBD links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of sustainable using of biological resources. CBD has ensured that international environment law recognizes the conservation of biodiversity as “a common concern of humankind”, and at the same time remains an integral part of the development process.CBD is legally binding, and nation-states that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.
CBD covers ecosystems, species, genetic resources, biotechnology, and links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources. It sets out principles for a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. While it reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and its sustainable use, it recognizes that ecosystems, species and genes must be used for the benefit of humans. The earlier conservation efforts were only aimed at protecting particular species and habitats. Further, CBD offers guidance based on the precautionary principle to the decision makers and demands that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat.
To date the Conference of the Parties (COP) has held 14 ordinary meetings, and one extraordinary meeting, namely the Biosafety Protocol, which was held in two parts. From 1994 to 1996, COP was held annually, and thereafter meetings were held less frequently. However, following a change in the rules of procedure in 2000, COPs were held every two years. COP is the governing body of the Convention, and advances implementation of the Convention through the decisions it takes at its periodic meetings.
Through its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, it addresses concern of technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety issues. It is the first international regulatory framework for the safe transfer, handling and use of Living Modified Organisms. Likewise, the Jakarta Mandate on marine and coastal biological diversity was adopted by the CBD Parties in 1995 to underline the importance of establishing coastal and marine protected areas. Subsequently, the CBD Parties have agreed that marine and coastal protected areas are one of the essential tools and approaches in the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity. In the same year, Protocol concerning specially protected areas and biological diversity in the Mediterranean was adopted in Barcelona(came into force on 12 December, 1999). It is a key facilitator of CBD implementation in the Mediterranean area. Under the instrument, Parties are obliged to take necessary actions, In order to protect, preserve and manage in sustainable and environmentally sound way, areas of particular natural or cultural value, notably by the establishment of specially protected areas, and to protect, preserve and manage the threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna.
Another important instrument was the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization. Adopted in the year 2010, the instrument sets out core obligations for its contracting Parties to take measures in relation to access to genetic resources, benefit-sharing and compliance. It also creates incentives mechanism for conserving and sustainably using genetic resources for human well-being.
Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and Biological Diversity: Key Issues
Article 8 (j), CBD encourages to take steps that respect, preserve, maintain knowledge, innovations, practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It also suggests use of measures that promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits. Article 15(7), CBD mandates that each contracting Party, upon mutually agreed terms, shall take legislative, administrative or policy measures, with the aim of sharing in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the contracting Party providing such resources. Under Article 16(5), CBD the contracting Parties are required to recognize patents and other intellectual property rights (IPRs)that may have an influence, and shall cooperate in this regard, subject to national legislation and international law in order to ensure that such rights are supportive of and do not run counter to its objectives.
Now, the current IPR regime encourages commercialization of seed development, monoculture, protection of new plant varieties, microorganisms, and genetically modified organisms. As a consequence, the rich biogenetic diversity is being eroded irreversibly. The relationship between the CBD and IPRs has been even considered by the COP in a number of decisions. In this regard, invitation was made to Word Trade Organization (WTO) to consider relevant provisions of CBD, their interrelationship with the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement, and to further explore this interrelationship. Policy-makers and members of civil society have registered concerns that the TRIPS Agreement promotes private commercial interests at the expense of public policy objectives contained in the CBD. It is disastrous to allow commercial priorities at the expense of the diverse eco-systems. The extent IPRs are considered essential to the industries, and in view of the increasing corporate control of biotechnological research, demands revisit of CBD. In this sense many argue that CBD is now regarded as a case of a hard treaty gone soft in the implementation trajectory.
Indian Position on Biodiversity Conservation
India plays a significant role in the protection of biodiversity acknowledges the value of biodiversity for sustaining and nourishing human communities. There are17 “mega-diverse” nation-states that contain 70 % of world’s biodiversity. India is one of these megadiverse countries with 2.4% of the land area, accounting for 7-8% of the species of the world, including about 91,000 species of animals and 45,500 species of plants, that have been documented in its ten bio-geographic regions. In order to honour the mandate of CBD, India had enacted the Biological Diversity Act, 2002for preservation of biological diversity, and establishes a mechanism for equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of traditional biological resources and knowledge. The Act establishes Authorities at both Central [National Biodiversity Authority (NBA)] and State level [State Biodiversity Board (SBB)].India has framed Guidelines on Access to Biological Resources and Associated Knowledge and Benefits Sharing Regulations, 2014 in pursuance of the Nagoya Protocol. As a result, any person who intends to obtain any IPR by whatever name called, in or outside India, for any invention based on any research or information on any biological resources obtained from India, shall make an application to the NBA in Form III of the Biological Diversity Rules, 2004.Now, where the applicant himself commercializes the process or product or innovation, the monetary sharing shall be in the range of 0.2 to 1.0% based on sectoral approach, which shall be worked out on the annual gross ex-factory sale minus government taxes. Likewise, where the applicant assigns or licenses the process or product or innovation to a third party for commercialization, the applicant shall pay to NBA monetary sharing of 3.0 to 5.0% of the fee received (in any form including the license or assignee fee) and 2.0 to 5.0% of the royalty amount received annually from the assignee or licensee, based on sectoral approach. However, any person applying for any right under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001 is exempted from this procedure.
India is a leading country in having established a comprehensive legal and institutional system to realize the objectives of CBD. Besides, the efforts on behalf of NBA is recognized globally for its pioneering work to implement the CBD and fully operationalize the access and benefit-sharing provisions, among others through a national network of Biodiversity Management Committees, alongside the establishment of People Biodiversity Registers. There have been certain collaborative efforts, for instance the Government of India in collaboration with the Norwegian Government has established “Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law” (CEBPOL) for strengthening the biodiversity policy and law in India.
Policy-makers have an important role to play in ensuring that policies and practices relating to IPRs, and the need for the conservation of biodiversity, remain mutually supportive. In this regard, Governments are required to adopt an integrated approach ‘across’and ‘between’ different national and international fora, to strictly implement the objectives and provisions of the CBD. Presently, CBD is in the epicenter of Global North-South debate, wherein developed States wants to promotes “scientific development, IPR for plant verities, genetically modified foods”,and developing States wants to extent protection on “agriculture, farmer’s rights, animal welfare, environment and ecology”.
We need to understand that the presentCOVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important is biodiversity in nature, and how scientific development and medicinal advancement are incomplete to handle situations like these. It is a clarion call from our creator is to remind ourselves of “live and let others live”. Extinction of species do affect our ecosystem, particularly when every specie has an important role to play on the planet. Biodiversity combines interactions of all living organisms and their existence on the planet. Only this time no Noah’s ark will come unless strict adherence to CBD is made. Indeed, itis possible to save all species in the mother earth because “Solutions are in Nature”.
*Assistant Professor, VSLLS, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi.
Do Migratory Birds Connect our World: Analyzing from the Perspective of Collective Legal Response
Authors: Prakash Sharma and Partha Pratim Mitra
On May 09, the world celebrated the World Migratory Bird Day in order to raise awareness of migratory birds and the importance of international cooperation to conserve them. For the year 2020 the theme is “Birds Connect our World”. It is organized by a collaborative partnership among two United Nations treaties i.e. the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and the Colorado based non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA).
Migratory Birds play an important role by conserving and restoring the ecological connectivity and integrity of ecosystems that support the natural cycles that are essential for the survival and well-being of migratory birds. Over the years, migratory birds are facing severe existential threat. Factors like loss of habitat, climate change, poisoning, power lines, and illegal killing have contributed immensely to the threat. It is realized that individual State effort wouldn’t bring desired results, however, sincere collective actions from all nation-states, across the world, has the potential to better protect migratory birds and the habitats they need to survive and thrive.
In this regard, CMS brings together the nation-states through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range. Migratory species threatened with extinction are listed on Appendix-Iand those migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation are listed in Appendix-II of the Convention. Listing generally leads to concerted actions in different national jurisdictions in which a species range. Actions may include cooperation among range countries, harmonization in policies etc. through regional agreements. CMS has working groups specializing in various fauna families, and a scientific council that advises research-based solutions for conservation.
Endangered and Threatened Bird Species
At least 1,317 bird species have been recorded in India against around 10,000 species found worldwide. Of the 1,317 species recorded in India, 72 are endemic to the country. According to an assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2018, a total of 100 species of Indian birds are classified as ‘threatened’. Of these, 17 are categorized as ‘critically endangered’, 20 as ‘endangered’, and 63 as ‘vulnerable’.Besides these threatened species, there are several other species that are marked by sparse population size and restricted range and are generally considered rare by conservationists.
COP-13, India: Relevance
The conservation of wildlife and habitats has long been part of the cultural ethos of India.In February 2020the 13thsession of the Conference of the Partiesto the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals(COP-13) was held in Gandhinagar, India. The COP-13 had the theme titled “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”. The COP-13resulted in the adoption of seven new species including migratory birds like Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican, Little Bustard, Antipodean Albatross to Appendix-I of the CMS. In this regard, the Government of India also issued a special stamp edition featuring the Great Indian Bustard as the mascot of COP-13.
COP-13 was the largest ever in the history of the Convention, with 2,550 people attending including 263 delegates representing 82 Parties, 11 delegates from 5 non-Party countries, 50 representatives from United Nations agencies, 70 representatives of international NGOs, 127 representatives of national NGOs and over 100 members of both national and international media.COP13 adopted the Gandhinagar Declaration, which calls for integration of migratory species and the concept of ‘ecological connectivity’ in the new framework (to be adopted at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in October).Interestingly, COP-13 is perhaps the first COP ever inaugurated by the Head of Government of the host-country.
Convention on Migratory Species and its Agreements and MoUs
The CMS was initially signed by 21 nation-states in Bonn, Germany on 1979 and came into force in November, 1983. Presently, CMS has 130 nation-states as its Party while several other nation-states, although not Party to the CMS are Party to one or more of the agreements and/or have signed one or more of the Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs). The CMS was mainly drafted by Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin who later became head of IUCN’s Environmental Law Commission. CMS is species specific and covers terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species. According to Philippe Sands and Jacqueline Peel migratory species can be classified into four general categories; (1) Marine species which breed on the shores of coastal states but migrate to sea during adult life, e.g. seals, sea turtles, anadromous fish; (2) Highly migratory marine species which travel between exclusive economic zones and high seas e.g. tuna or whales; (3) Territorial species with a well-established migration pattern e.g. birds; and (4) Territorial or marine species which live in border areas and regularly cross jurisdiction boundaries e.g. gorillas or elephants.
Interestingly, however, the CMS itself does not apply any direct measures, but directs the “range states” to make ancillary agreements. So far six regional agreements and seven non-binding MoUs have been convened on various migratory species, like AEWA, 1995whichis an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory water birds including 255 species of birds ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland and the Canadian Archipelago. Likewise, the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), 2001 was made to recognize the need for international cooperation for marine migratory species like Albatrosses and Petrels.
Similarly, the MoU concerning conservation measures for the Siberian Crane, 1993 was entered to protect Siberian Cranes. The MoU concerning conservation measures for the Slender-Billed Curlew, 1994 was formed with an aim to safeguard the Slender-Billed Curlew. The MoU on the conservation and management of the Great Bustard, 2001 was also made to correct the continuous decline of the Great Bustard and degradation or fragmentation of suitable habitats and hunting pressure in Middle-European States etc.
Migratory Bird Treaties:From 1916 onwards
Prior to the multilateral international conventions, migratory bird treaties (MBTs) were main instruments for bird protection. The United States of America(USA) is pioneer in entering into the treaty regime of ‘nation-state conservation policy’. Perhaps, the thought was to successfully strengthen the domestic laws and thereafter facilitate the international cooperation for avian conservation. The 1916,The United States signs a treaty with Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada, then part of the British Empire)to stop all hunting of insectivorous birds and to establish specific hunting seasons for game birds. In order to implement the treaty, the USA Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, 1918 and replaced the Weeks-McLean Act, 1913.The said treaty is known to be one of the oldest sources of international environmental law.Later, USA signed a treaty similar to the one entered between Great Britain with Mexico in 1936 for the protection (through laws and regulations) of migratory birds in their movements across the two signatory nation-states.USA signed treaty with Japan in 1972 for protection of migratory birds except if an open season has been established. Likewise, USA entered treaty with Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1976 to improve cooperation between the contracting parties as the conservation of migratory birds passing between their territories.
The success of MBTs to facilitate, encourage, and justify expensive and often low-priority bird conservation and research facilities rubbed onto other nation-states. For instance, Japan in 1973 signed a treaty with USSR to promote cooperation in the conservation of birds migrating between the contracting parties’ territories and of endangered species of birds. In 1974, Australia signed an identical treaty (the one entered between Japan and USSR) with Japan. In 1981, Japan entered an agreement with Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the prohibition of the taking of birds listed in an appendix to the treaty, establishment of bird sanctuaries, and for the exchange of research results. This bilateral migratory bird agreement has been instrumental in building research capacity in PRC for the study of migratory birds.
There are certain little known yet significant MBTs, for example, the 1984 agreement between India and USSR, which is applicable to species of birds for which there is a positive evidence of migration between the two countries and also to species or sub-species common to both countries and listed in the appendix attached with the agreement. Both nations agreed to promote joint research programs and establish bird sanctuaries and endeavour to preserve and improve the natural environment of migratory birds. Another, treaty entered between Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation in 1994 (is the only bilateral treaty entered in 1990s)was on mutual cooperation for taking measures for the management and protection of migratory birds and their habitat and the prevention of the extinction of certain birds. It recognized that many species of birds migrate between and seasonally live in both countries and that certain species of birds are in danger of extinction.
Though, the merits of MBTs are mostly limited to migratory bird species and is limited between the nation-states party to such treaties. Nevertheless, from the perusal of above-discussed MBTs, it is argued that MBTs are still a beneficial tool since multinational treaties tend to be inflexible, cumbersome, and politically driven. They act as a useful tool for international wildlife conservation (even after the emergence of multinational treaties like CMS). At the same time, it would be much too simplistic to conclude that any one category or model of MBT is better than any other, In fact MBTs have starting to form a network of international conservation efforts.
The last flocks of passenger pigeons were reported in 1888, the last confirmed sighting occurred in 1900, and the last passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914 in Cincinnati zoo.In 1850 Alexander Wilson, an ornithologist,watched migrating flock of passenger pigeons and wrote that their passing had darkened the sky for more than 30 minutes(containing 2 billion birds spread over 384 km long and 1.6 km wide, in the sky). Both passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) were most dramatic bird extinction ever recorded. Both were the victim of human consumption. Even thereafter, the human desire did not stop, birds which were frequently around 10 years ago, have become rare and in certain cases extinct. In the times, when most of the world’s population is under some form of restricted movement due to the COVID-19, this theme “Birds Connect Our World” carries a particular relevance and poignance. The need of hour is multiple efforts, for instance, during recently concluded COP-13, the Indian Prime Minister pledged to focus on the conservation of migratory birds along the Central Asian Flyway, announced the establishment of an institutional research facility for the conservation of migratory birds and marine turtles, and confirmed efforts to reduce pollution from micro-plastic and single-use plastic etc. It is desired that human-beings collectively act to prevent the destruction of birds. This would demand adherence of stringent domestic laws, and measures that conserve and protect their habitats and their flyways.
* Partha Pratim Mitra has written a book titled, Birds, Wetlands and the Law: Indian and International Perspectives (Thomson Reuters, 2019).
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