Thursday, November 16, 2006

Integrating Biodiversity into European Development Cooperation

Brussels, 15 November. In a side meeting at the EU Development Days, the challenges faced to integrate environmental concerns – especially biodiversity – in European development cooperation were presented.

Speakers from the IUCN Europe, WWF Europe, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the European Commission reported on the outcomes and messages of the Paris conference on Biodiversity in European Development Cooperation. A basic message is that "we need to act now if we are to halt the loss of biodiversity worldwide."

The challenges highlighted in the Paris meeting included:
  • Supporting Mainstreaming in Partner Countries
  • Governance
  • Instruments and Policy Coherence
An underlying issue raised by all the speakers in Brussels was the need to adapt existing governance structures and systems so all the actors involved in the environment and biodiversity could participate in policy formulation and action in these areas. According to the EC speaker, it is essential that "we all work together to ensure that the environment – and biodiversity – get sufficient attention" in development activities.

It was argued that the linkages (coherence) among policies and actions must be recognized so that decisions in one area don’t compromise efforts elsewhere. As someone from the audience remarked: "We have huge difficulties in making the connections within existing governance structures." He particularly emphasized that local inter-sectoral connections are essential and need to be facilitated if biodiversity issues are to be properly understood and addressed. The Paris conference was an international attempt to get people working outside the environment to look at environmental issues from their own perspectives. This inter-sectoral perspective needs to be encouraged in countries so that, for instance, ministries of planning, finance, tourism, or rural development are systematically exposed to environmental concerns and challenges and how they relate to other policy areas.

Opening up current biodiversity and environmental governance structures involves, among others, strengthening the efforts of civil society and local communities and empowering them to 'have control' over their natural resources and environmental assets. In practical terms, this involves systematically seeking inputs and opinions from civil society, as well as government, in setting country-level priorities. According to WWF Europe’s Sally Nicholson, research by the WWF in Rwanda and Tanzania shows that it is absolutely critical that donors and national governments actively enhance "civil society access and dialogue [on biodiversity policies and actions] in the countries." Only this will lead to genuine local ownership.

Mainstreaming biodiversity into other policies and programs is an important part of the strategy recommended by the speakers in the side meeting. It is also essential that we address the critical governance challenges - to give voice to all the actors that use, control and manage natural resources; and to devise effective mechanisms that will 'hear' the voices and then act appropriately on them (locally, nationally, internationally, and across the EU and the wider donor community).

For more information, check the Euforic dossiers on the European Development days.

Story contributed by Peter Ballantyne.