Canada, UK given Dodo Awards by civil society

The awards are given to countries that contribute to biodiversity loss

By M Suchitra
Published: Thursday 18 October 2012

AwardCBD Alliance, a network of non-profits, civil society groups and activists, selected Canada and the UK for its Dodo Awards.  The Dodo bird represents biodiversity loss and the awards are given to those governments that are contributing to biodiversity loss, rather than preventing it.

“Canada is the clear leader, for breaching the moratorium on ocean fertilisation and geo-engineering adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2008 and 2010,” said a representative of the CBD Alliance. 

“Right in the middle of CBD negotiations, we discovered that Canada had 'ignored' a huge ocean fertilisation event that was recently carried out off their Pacific coast, in violation of two international conventions,” the Alliance pointed out (see ‘The violation’).

The violation
A huge commercial ocean fertilisation project was recently carried out by a Canadian company using a Canadian ship and with its nationals onboard, close to the country’s Pacific coast, breaching both the de facto moratorium on ocean fertilisation and on geoengineering adopted by CBD in 2008 and 2010 as well as a moratorium and rules established under the International Maritime Organization’s London Convention on Dumping of Wastes at Sea.

These moratoria were established keeping in mind the grave potential impacts of geoengineering (climate manipulation) on biodiversity. The Canadian government is yet to issue a statement about this large-scale and blatant violation and there are claims that government representatives were both involved and had prior knowledge of the scheme.

The dumping of 100 tonnes of iron sulphate for geoengineering purposes was carried out under the guise of a salmon recovery project by a company called Haida Salmon Recovery Corporation (HSRC), created by Russ George. George, the former CEO of the bankrupt ocean fertilisation company Planktos Inc, had previously tried to carry out a similar commercial project near the Galapagos Islands and the Canary Islands and was stopped by governments that subsequently established the CBD moratorium. In both these cases and the previous case, George had claimed his actions would generate carbon credits because the dumping of iron would generate a large plankton bloom which might sequester greenhouse gases. There is little evidence that ocean fertilisation results in long term capture of carbon, but there are significant concerns about the impact on marine biodiversity as well as atmospheric effects.

While global condemnation from scientists and civil society has been swift, Canada’s government, that has clear international responsibility for what occurred, has been ambiguous and evasive on what it knew about this illegal experiment and why it did not stop it or take action against the company involved. In turn, the CEO and chief scientist of HSRC have both told press that Canadian federal officials knew about the scheme and were collaborating with the company, providing funding through the National Research Council.

Helena Paul of EcoNexus said Canada was also chosen for its strong stance on biofuels. “Canada insisted that CBD is not a place to discuss food security, and so the impacts of biofuel expansion on food should not be considered,” she added.  Furthermore, “After asserting the biodiversity benefits of biofuels, Canada threatened that it would call for a deletion of text including socio-economic issues and reintroduce proposals if other governments proposed any further changes to the biofuels text”.  Canada also refused to recognise the importance of participation of indigenous people and local communities in the ecologically and biologically significant marine areas process. It tried to stop the CBD from taking up synthetic biology as a new and emerging issue.

Why UK?
The UK was the other winner of the Dodo Award.  “The country is busy behind the scenes blocking attempts in the European Union and CBD to adopt a precautionary approach to synthetic biology and establish or maintain moratoria,” said Paul.  “The UK government hopes to become a leader in these technologies, primarily for the benefit of their own economy,” she added.

Moreover, the UK is busy commodifying biodiversity and the functions of ecosystems by developing biodiversity offsets, noted the CBD Alliance.  “Offsets don’t reduce biodiversity loss. Instead, the idea is to ‘pay for your sins’ elsewhere. Does the UK hope that biodiversity offsets and other financial mechanisms will replace the financial commitments that industrialised countries urgently need to make to the global effort to stem biodiversity loss?  Many in the global South call this the ecological debt owed to them by developed countries,” noted Paul.  

The Dodo Award winners were chosen by consensus within the CBD Alliance members.  Runners up included China, Brazil and Paraguay.

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