What makes a good opening ceremony for a multi-lateral environmental organisation’s Conference of Parties (COP)?
Is it speeches that inspire?
Is it a good sing-along?
Is it a suitably prestigious and impressive venue?
Is it a welcome from the hosting hotel manager pointing out the emergency exits and the main toilets?
Stand by because we are about to enjoy all these things.
Delegates fill the big meeting hall. There is an excited buzz and much meeting and greeting and then this suddenly stills as someone takes to the main stage.
It is the hotel manager. Delegates listen seemingly in awe as he identifies toilets and the exits. Then he exits. Then someone comes to sit at the grand piano which is central stage, and he is joined by a ljovial lady with red hair ady who sings to us.
Apparently ‘Birds and Bees do it’ and ‘even the Fins do it’. (It seems a little unfortunate to single out one member nation in this way, but there you are.)
The song is the old famous Cole Porter standard with the famous refrain:
And that's why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love.
And another Party is identified in the lyrics with ‘the Dutch do it’!
Anyway, the gist of this is that the Parties are entreated to fall in love with each other. We will report back on how well this goes at the end of the meeting.
Then Toots sings to us one of her own compositions and asks the delegations to join in with the chorus which is ‘La la la la la’ x c30’. (It doesn’t matter what your language is she says, you can join in, and we do!)
The other lyrics go something like this:
‘Allow yourself to let it in… I’ve seen more of what you are… … weak makes you strong… the truth is bizarre.’ Followed by many lalalalalas.
There is warm applause.
Prince Bandar Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia is then announced as the master of ceremonies and some tables are rearranged, name plates added and carefully placed, and then the prince comes to the stage.
Prince Bandar welcomes everyonea and says we shall decide the future of CMS and the future of migratory species here and he calls for all parties to provide much needed institutional support. Ladies and Gentlemen the CMS family is growing… we are facing increasing challenges. More and more transboundary species are faced with extinction.
He describes the core strength of CMS as the support that it receives from its Parties and he hopes this will expand in coming years. He also calls on non-Party states to accede to the Convention and recalls that we are in the run-up to Rio + 20 (the key international environmental meeting).
He thanks the people and Government of Norway for their hospitality and the CMS Secretariat for their high quality arrangements for this meeting and wishes everyone constructive deliberations and a fruitful outcome.
Lisbeth Iversen a Commissioner of Bergen Municipality takes the microphone next. She welcomed everyone to historic Bergen and shows an aerial photo of the city, which was founded in 1070. The sea was the highway to cooperation with others she comments, and despite the fact that Bergen has been ravaged by fire many times, the history can still be read in the streets.
Uncertain weather conditions are now affecting the city; uncertainty is now the normal situation. Bergen is the second largest city in the country and surrounded by green and fertile mountains… she mentions the funicular railway, the birds in the city… and stresses that wildlife belongs to all of us and we belong to it. Bergen tries to have sustainable management of its biological diversity which they try to register and map.
With emphasis she concludes that ’We are all grown ups, we need to look to the future and work with children and their open hearts. In Bergen, the children have adopted our lakes and river systems. They take samples for the Universities and they help measure and monitor the trees. She hopes that we have come here with warm hearts to change the world. Good luck with your important talks.
More warm applause.
The UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Amina Mohammed, speaks next. She too extends greetings and thanks. The theme of COP10 - networking for migratory species - could not have been agreed at a better time she states and adds that we must agree synergies between international treaties. She lists the key international treaties: CBD, CITES and the RAMSAR convention.
Biodiversity is a product of years of evolution… and yet by our actions and activities, we are allowing erosion of biodiversity, at a time when our dependence on biological services and diversity is increasing rapidly. This is the UN decade of biodiversity and all countries should keep up the good work through the UN. She then echoes Ms Iversen; they all belong to us and we to them, she says. We need to invest in the conservation and sustainable use of species and she mentions the relationship between this and global poverty. An issue that must be addressed consistently.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema comes to the microphone next. She is the Executive Secretary of the Convention for Migratory Species and she congratulates Norway on its outstanding environmental work. She could not have wished a better host for this jubilee meeting. Her speech is halted by applause for Norway.
She then gives a personal perspective: in her previous role as the lawyer for UNEP and responsible for its many treaties, she had thought that she knew CMS. But, she says, she discovered she was responsible for a most complex family of treaties and she refers to the daughter agreements and MOUs (memoranda of understanding). She was impressed by how many agreements were run from the small CMS secretariat – one for small cetaceans (ASCOBANS) another for gorillas and so forth. The small team and its small funding had to look after not only the main treaty but its ‘many babies’.
At the last COP she reflects, Parties tried to work out how to deal with all this work and she notes the many players involved in the work of her convention, including those in the field and in civil society. She considers the case of the Saiga Antelope in Russia. Acute decline was caused by poaching. No mammal has ever declined faster, but it is now recovering and, ultimately, it is the many people in the range states that made this happen.
She also mentions the other international bodies dealing with conservation and the importance of joint work – as agreed yesterday in the Standing Committee meeting.
The NGOs and civil society have continued to assist. ‘Your hard work in partnership with CMS and independently continues to be important’.
She notes that the convention has been locked into a review process (the Future Shape Process which we shall be hearing much more of over the next few days) and that many potential new agreements were put on ice whilst this has been running.
She praises Tanzania (her own country) for its recent decision not to build a road through the middle of the migratory route of many wild animals across the Serengeti. We must go from here with a clear way forward! We must also explain to the rest of the world, why it should care!
She is applauded.
Some small, and rather high tables, are now added to the stage and the senior administrators of a range of conventions come to stand alongside them with Elizabeth Maruma Merema. They include CITES, RAMSAR, ITPGRFA (The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture) and Peter Schei (the representative of Norway and a CMS Ambassador).
They are invited to profile their conventions and have an ‘interactive discussion’
The CITES Executive Secretary, John Scanlon, speaks up first. We enter our convention like CMS ‘through the lens of species’. We cannot meet our objectives by working alone he says – he lists a number of bodies CITES works with including Interpol. He says the relationship with CMS is strong. CMS and CITES have become very specific. How do we help our parties address listings under both conventions?
The Saiga antelope decline was a lot to do with illegal trade – a CITES issue. In addressing this Mr Scanlon says we brought together the originating states and the consuming states and good results came with good cooperation between the conventions. Then he points to the gorilla depicted on the banner on the stage (Rhingo), another species that needs us to collaborate and adds that CMS and CITES need to go on being specific.
We need to look at ecosystem services but also individual species. Some forests are already empty. We cannot only look at ecosystems services. We mush maintain the species focus.
Nick Davidson of RAMSAR (the Convention for Wetlands) agrees with the CITES executive secretary and then throws numerous acronyms at the assembly. (Acronyms are not an endangered species.) Migratory species may be international sentinels of global change he stresses and notes that here we are speaking to the converted. We need to reach out urgently to others (and he identifies in particular the absence of the energy sector here). We must also recognise the hairy and slimy species, not just the birds. He calls out for outreach to CBD (interestingly not apparently represented here).
Shakeel Bhatti of ITPGRFA speaks next. He is committed to working with the other environmental treaties. He sees a link in the ‘wise use’ or ‘wise management’ of species as identified in the CMS treaty with the work of his treaty.
We now come to the tall and distinguished figure of Peter Schei. He is not only a CMS Ambassador but since 2004 BirdLife International's Chairman. Before this he was International Negotiations Director for Norway and was based at the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, where he had been Director General from 1989 to 1995.
CMS and CITES are specific and related to species he says. The species level is represented in CBD but they focus more on the ecosystem level. They look at the drivers of extinction. We are indeed focusing too much on speaking to ourselves. He agrees that we need dialogue with others in the other sectors, including the extractive ones. They have been striving for this in Norway.
Mr Schei does not like the fragmentation of governance coming from many different conventions. It is good that the biodiversity conventions are talking; but this is easy. They are more or less the same people. We need to speak to the climate people. They are not so interested in biodiversity. We should talk to the World Trade Organisation and seek ‘horizontal integration’ between ministries and sectors. We need to restore the ecological infrastructure on the planet. It is not so strong now and it will be important for adaptation to climate change. Science is also important. BirdLife works closely with the CMS Secretariat in this regard, he adds, we need the best advice and the government of Norway has long been focused on the best science for the implementation of conventions.
Elizabeth is then invited back to the microphone. She highlights the Biodiversity Liaison Group established between the international bodies. There needs to be more liaison at national level too she urges.
Fernando Spina of Italy, recently appointed as the Chair of the CMS Scientific Committee – and resplendent in a duck-decorated tie – gives the penultimate speech. He reflects on the last COP (which was in Rome, and yes we were there too).
Whilst we meet and talk, many animals are going about their business anyway. He gives various examples including the fact that majestic gorillas are unaware of crossing borders in their shady forests and gigantic whales are following their mysterious underwater track ways.
He then formally hands over from COP9 to COP 10. There is applause and he is thanked by Prince Bandar who introduces Erick Soheim, Minister of the Environment of Norway (he is also the Minister of Development Cooperation). He is the last speaker and he is invited to now open the meeting.
It is not a coincidence that we are here in Bergen. This is the most international place in Norway. Once the language here was German and grain flowed in and cod out. Bergen was once the main city and people in Bergen still believe they are far superior to other Norwegians. There is laughter.
He continues: Norway is built on migratory species. Why did people first come here? First they followed the reindeer. Moving here from south France, but why would they leave the more beautiful (as some would say) women of France? They also discovered the migratory salmon. They were once so common and big and fat that the peasants once begged their overlords to have just one salmon-free meal a week.
The most popular song in Norway is about migratory birds. Yes they spend some times overseas but as Norwegians, we see their home here (not in Spain or Africa.) They return in the Spring and our society blooms then too. We are never happier than in April and May. He emphasises this by noting that more babies are born in Norway in January because of this. There is more laughter.
Norway knows now that to protect its bird life it must protect them in all their habitats around the world. Actions are taken in Norway but there must also be international cooperation.
One road could affect many wild beasts. Here we are focused on action to address the electrocution issue. Our transmission lines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds. Marine Litter was covered by a conference here last year. We have seen all the plastic in seabirds. We cannot continue to use the oceans as a litter bin!
He emphasises that we need to outreach to people. Probably only ten people in Norway understand what ‘CMS COP 10’ understands, and they all work for him, says the minster laughing. When you use all these acronyms it makes life hard. In his ministry he only allows 2 acronyms – UN and EU (and sometimes USA). There is more laughter.
We need people to understand the beauty of nature and not impair this with jargon.
He is rewarded with applause.
He goes on to speak about the relationship between palm oil and the destruction of rain forest. Here is a conversation that has happened with the relevant industry. They are ready to use degraded land in Indonesia if this is possible and there would then be no reason to use prime forest. This industry is substantial to the budget of Indonesia and this has to be recognised but it has started.
We need to speak to all ‘tribes’. We must uplift the one billion people living in poverty; we cannot achieve conservation separately from this.
We even have one tribe looking at Climate Change and another focused on biodiversity. These tribes must be brought together.
What other arguments would people understand? Across religions there is a common philosophy that calls for the protection of nature. The bible – the holy book of Norway - begins and ends with the beauty of nature. We cannot take it upon ourselves to be the one species destroying nature.
The second argument is the ecosystems argument. Destroying one species can have enormous impacts on the rest. The third argument is the economic one. Species can have economic potential and not only for tourism. We need to send a message to the climate change meeting in Durban in three weeks time (some delegates already seem to be looking at a draft message, so something along these lines is already being progressed here).
Norway’s main contribution, says its minister, has been to address deforestation working with Brazil and others. Brazil has reduced deforestation by seventy percent. Tremendous progress and it shows you can combine conservation and development. He also mentions his support for gorilla conservation.
In conclusion, this will be an important year for conservation. There are several important meetings. We must combine our efforts to make this successful. This conference is an important step.
He steps back and the applause is enthusiastic. He has impressed the COP.
The Prince thanks him, especially for stealing many of the remarks that he wanted to make! Environment to him is the most important thing. It is holy, our life, our home, our food, we are part of it. A human being is a custodian as it says in his religion. Our forefathers did look after it but, in the last 100 years, we have destroyed more than ever before because of our technology and increase in population. Ignorance and greed are the reasons for the destruction of the environment. We need to reach out to governments and non-government groups and agencies all over the world.
Once there were only seven bald ibises in the world. Two crossed Saudi Arabia. One was shot by an ignorant child and this made the Saudis mad. They then initiated a new protective regime and the next year the birds passed through Saudi without incident.
All countries in the world have migratory species – we had problems in Saudi Arabia with CITES implementation but now we have come a long way. We have explained now to our people the need and that implementation on a local level is so important.
Every country must join in and Prince Bandar concludes by thanking the host nation, noting the role of Norway in helping to protect the biodiversity of the world.
[Please note that what we report here is not verbatim but we try to capture the gist of what was said and welcome comment and correction.]
Some images from the opening ceremony.