U.S. prodded on failings in biodiversity

2021-11-16 China Daily Editor:Mo Hong'e

Biden should chip away at resistance to global pact in Senate, experts say

Environmental experts are urging those U.S. politicians opposed to a key international agreement to set aside commercial interests in order for the country to join the pact aimed at preserving biodiversity.

William Snape is among those calling for action in the U.S..

"It's hard for me even to admit, because I do love my country, but the opposition to the Convention on Biological Diversity doesn't have much rationality to it," Snape, a senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, told China Daily in a recent interview.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity calls for the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. It entered into force in 1993. More than 190 countries and the European Union have joined the agreement.

The United States is the only UN member country that isn't a party to the treaty, and Snape points to the resistance in the Senate, which refuses to ratify the treaty.

"The holdup, the problem with the U.S. not joining, is the U.S. Senate," he said. "The U.S. Senate is still largely controlled by fossil fuel interests, and by other corporate interests, and the U.S. Senate has shown no interest in ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity, and frankly, a lot of other treaties."

Snape, who is the assistant dean of adjunct faculty affairs at American University Washington College of Law, has written extensively over the years on the subject. In an article in 2012 for China Dialogue, an independent organization, he drew attention to the "corporate oligarchy" that stands in the way.

"How this has come to be is a modern lesson in the power of oligarchical segments to take over political parties. In other words, old guard corporate users of the Earth's biological resources will not succumb lightly to new economic-ecologic paradigms that weaken their power," he wrote in the article titled "Why everyone loses from U.S. boycott of the UN Biodiversity Agreement".

Many U.S. biotechnology companies expressed concern about sharing their intellectual property related to genetic research with other nations. They also want to maintain control over natural resources from developing countries, experts say. Under the treaty, biotechnology companies would have to compensate developing nations for using their genetic material to create treatment.

With these concerns, the U.S., under president George H.W. Bush, did not sign the agreement when the Biodiversity Convention opened for signatures at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

After Bill Clinton became president in 1993, he signed the treaty and sent it to the Senate for ratification. However, the ratification was blocked by many Republican senators from coming to a vote. They were worried that the convention would undermine the nation's commercial interests.

Snape said concerns about intellectual property were addressed in the so-called Seven Understandings, which was drafted by the Clinton administration when it sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification. The Seven Understandings reinforced U.S. priorities, such as retaining sovereignty over the country's natural resources.

'Political resistance'

"I think those problems have largely been solved, I don't think that's the real reason, I think it's a much deeper political resistance by some in the U.S. to participate with the rest of the world," he said.

Since Clinton, no president has brought the treaty to the Senate floor for consideration, Snape said.

"We know there's not enough votes, we know that it's going take 67 votes out of 100 to ratify and we know that every single Republican will vote against it," he said. "We only have 50 Democrats. We would need 17 Republican senators to join, and I just don't see that happening."

However, the Biden administration has some flexibility on the issue and should participate in the international dialogue to prevent biodiversity loss, within the bounds of the U.S. laws, he said.

"I think if Joe Biden could administratively send high-level delegations to the Convention on Biodiversity meetings, order his agencies to participate as volunteers, when they are able, and when it's allowed," Snape said. "I think the U.S. could still be a very constructive international partner."

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity took place virtually in Kunming, China, during Oct 11-15. Its second portion is scheduled in the first half of next year, also in Kunming.

Related news
Most popular in 24h