Bahrain at the Biodiversity Negotiations in Mexico

Founder of Inspiring Change – Reem Al Mealla, representing Bahrain and Arab Youth at the CBD COP13 Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Last month, under the theme of “Integrating conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the plans, programs and sectoral and intersectoral policies with emphasis on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors;” Mexico hosted the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP13) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Cancun between the 2-19 of December 2016.

The CBD which came into force in 1993 is accompanied by two protocols: (1) The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which came into force in 2003 and serves as the first international agreement to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs), taking into account its potential risks to human health and; (2) The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization which entered into force in 2014 and is aimed at the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

COP13 brought together world governments, the private sector, academia, NGOs and civil society groups including youth, women and indigenous people. Two weeks of intense negotiations resulted in the Cancun Declaration, accompanied by the adaptation of 72 resolutions of which 37 decisions concerned the implementation of the CBD, 20 decisions were on the Cartagena Protocol and 15 decisions were on the Nagoya Protocol. Key discussions covered various topics from synthetic biology (which proved to be the hottest topic of discussions that kept contact groups up till 3 am on multiple nights followed by Article 8j which revolved around indigenous knowledge and people), capacity building, protected areas, restoration, marine issues, pollinators, biodiversity, finance mechanisms, implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2010-2020) to climate change.

Important announcements included the passing of the COP Presidency from the previous host (South Korea – COP12) to Mexico, which hosted COP13. Following stressed negotiations an agreement was reached, which outlined that, in 2018, COP14 shall be hosted in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt whilst COP15 will be held in Istanbul, Turkey and COP16 shall see everyone gathering in 2020- Beijing, China.

Ironically, even though the next presidency shall be hosted by Egypt, Reem Al Mealla, the founder of Inspiring Change was the only youth at the CBD COP13 negotiations representing MENA youth. “The lack of representation of MENA youth in this process is very concerning as biodiversity underpins life,” said Reem. “Under normal circumstances, MENA youth would have met with the Egyptian delegation to begin establishing a partnership to mobilise youth in country and across the MENA region. This will be the first CBD meeting in the region making it a very important event that could have a high impact in bringing biodiversity conservation to the frontline. However, yet again I seem to find myself alone working within the realm of biodiversity conservation.”

Reem’s participation at the CBD COP13 was made possible through funding granted to the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), the official youth constituency under the CBD umbrella. For COP13, GYBN succeeded in bringing together over 30 young people from around the world, mostly from developing countries to be represented at the talks. In the past two years, GYBN members have been working on producing the first of its kind CBD Guidebook which was launched in an official side event in the presence of the CBD Secretary General, Dr. Braulio Dias and representatives of all sponsors that made this production possible. The Guidebook titled “CBD in a Nutshell” of which Reem is a co-author, is a comprehensive, easy to read and visually pleasing to the eye with infographics, stunning artwork and real life photos of youth engaged in the CBD process. The guidebook outlines how the entire CBD process works, from history, to current issues being negotiated, inter-sessionals, youth involvement and more.

The CBD in a Nutshell Guidebook, launched at COP13.

Moreover, Reem was invited by UNEP to present the success of the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Revision process of its National Biodiversity & Action Plan (NBSAP) and synergies with the Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at their side event, which took place as part of the COP13 events. The presentation was well received and had a great audience, which resulted in a second invitation to present the opportunities, and challenges that the revision process of the NBSAP has presented at a second side event, which took place in the second week of the negotiations.

Reem Al Mealla presenting the Revised Bahrain NBSAP and its synergies with the Aichi Targets, MEAs and SDGs at a UNEP event during COP13.

Its been a month since the CBD COP13 has come to a close, the sense of urgency is as high as ever with less than four years remaining to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2010-2020) agreed by world governments in 2010. The clock continues to tick, the world seems to be falling into a deep black hole with the current political state but a little candle of hope remains as a voice inside whispers, in the middle of the craziness, the world will perhaps awaken from its slumber to give biodiversity a chance to survive.

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