Here’s to a biodiversity policy watershed

THIS year is a cornerstone for environmental and biodiversity related goals set at the global level which has national implications as well.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals pronounced eight key goals including the one to ensure environmental sustainability by 2015. The Convention of Biological Diversity (known as the CBD and the single largest international environmental treaty that forges the mission to conserve biological diversity) has developed under its auspices what is known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

From a policy perspective, Aichi Biodiversity Target 17 has a profound importance for Malaysia because by 2015, all parties to the treaty have to develop, adopt as a policy document and begin implementation of an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan. This article zooms in on Aichi Target 17 and contains my aspirations for it.

But first, some background context.

The CBD emerged from the "Earth Summit" held in Rio in 1992. It was a euphoric and prospective period for environmental concerns and saw the meteoric rise of the new buzzword in the environmental sphere – sustainable development.

Malaysia ratified the CBD in 1994 and in response to the requirement by parties under Article 6 of the convention to develop national strategies that would reflect and implement measures set out under the CBD at the local level; Malaysia formulated the National Policy on Biological Diversity in 1998. It may come as a surprise to many that we do indeed have such a national policy as well as its more obscure counterpart, the National Environmental Policy of 2002.

After the world failed to meet targets set by CBD to curb biodiversity loss by 2010, the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP) in October 2010 adopted the "Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020".

The plan also introduced the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (the COP took place in Nagoya, and Aichi is a prefecture in Central Japan, hence the namesake targets).

There are 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets (ranging from creation of well-connected protected marine and terrestrial areas, prevention of extinction of known threatened species to enhancing ecosystem resilience).

Most of the targets have a deadline by 2020; save for Target 16 and 17 which seek completion by 2015. So post the 2010 COP, all parties are required to establish a set of national targets and an implementation strategy that would contribute collectively towards realising these new targets.

This is primarily to be achieved by developing or revising any existing biodiversity related policies at the national level. For Malaysia to comply, in effect, requires the revision of the 1998 National Policy on Biological Diversity.

The 1998 policy was never revisited post its formulation and the opportunity to get cracking on a revision swiftly post the 2010 COP was regrettably, missed. It was only in the later part of 2014 that a revision exercise commenced, led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

The procrastination on the revision may not necessarily invite rebuke under the convention per se, but may have implications in the national context.

The issue lies at the heart of the nature and intention of such policies. Environmental or biodiversity policies are not intended to act as "stand-alone" instruments. Its primary implementation mechanism is through the mainstreaming and integration of the objectives and targets into broader national development plans.

With the revision of the policy still in the works, there is little by way of policy traction that would ensure key environmental priorities related to the Aichi targets are incorporated under the 11th Malaysia Plan, set to be unveiled in the middle of this year.

The 1998 policy, birthed by the now defunct Ministry of Science Technology and the Environment, for its generation was undoubtedly a progressive, one of a kind policy. It serves as an umbrella framework for biodversity conservation, protection and management but suffers from a number of flaws.

Somewhat ironically, the policy that was meant to be directional by way of outlining strategies, action plans and programmes for biodiversity conservation is fraught with open ended narrative content that provided very little direction, if any, at all.

Primarily, the policy did not set institutional obligations or delineation of various measures among institutions, timelines and implementation phases for action plans, a monitoring and evaluation framework and most importantly, accountability provisions.

I am confident that the revised policy will be adopted within the specified 2015 timeline.

Deadlines aside, my aspirations for the revised policy lie mainly in the following key aspects; that it addresses the gaps that hindered real implementation of the previous policy, contains clear and achievable national targets to conserve biodiversity that consequently contributes to the Aichi Targets, adopts indicators that enable us to gauge whether we are effective in our conservation efforts, prescribes a thorough monitoring and evaluation structure and identifies pathways towards mobilising financial resources that enable policy implementation activities.

Lastly, and I can't say this with anymore rigour and certainty, that absolute implementation success lies in the ownership of the revised policy by all levels of government across all sectors.

Readers who wish to know more about the CBD and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets can go to http://www.cbd.int/convention/.

Have a great year ahead everybody.

Preetha is an advocate and solicitor. She has spent many years in the environmental conservation arena. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com