Hochschule für nachhaltige Entwicklung Eberswalde

United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP14) - Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Hi friends! I wrote something about my experiences and thoughts on the last six days here at UN COP14 - Egypt 

Opinion Piece: Neoliberal Governance – Environmental Justice

Frederik Buchholz
November 19th, 2018


Traditional political science theories ask mainly who exercises power, where the sources of this power are and if the exercise is legitimate. It supposes that governing is an act of sovereignty. Foucault opposed this perspective by pointing out that governance is not limited to sovereign states, but that we should understand governance rather as a calculated and rational activity that is enacted by a variety of authorities and actors by using a diversity of techniques and knowledges that try to align our interests, views and longings with changing goals. To understand forms of governance, he proposes to analyze how specific realities are problematized, what is made visible and obscured in these processes, which technologies and forms of knowledges are applied, and which forms of identities are supported and created through it. Scientific elaborations pointed out that sovereign, disciplinary, neoliberal and biopower forms of governance are existing in the present, and that these governing forms are frequently entangled. Furthermore, researchers like Angela Oels point out that specific forms of governance enable to a varying degree which policy settings are possible, how we can understand problems and create solutions.

During the last days I heard many people talking about the rising influence of industry sectors on the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Many of the side events contain in their title an economic typology and most of the events I participated in were dealing with envisioned synergies between the CBD and industry. Market mechanisms could provide ecosystem services and protect nature and the wish of the private sector to play a leading role in the fight for biodiversity protection and the development of the post-2020 agenda.

These developments locate the reason for the biodiversity loss in the framing that environmental impacts of industry ventures as externalities. They exist solely because they are not included in companies planning activities. The goal therefore should not be state regulation, but the creation of markets. As in cap and trade, individuals are also framed as calculating entrepreneurs which need to be incentivized to make economically sound decisions based on cost and benefit analysis.

I am critical about this development because I think that central actors of capitalism which depend on surplus achieved through cheap nature, labour, energy and food can´t be the solution in a world running out of natural resources. Furthermore, I am convinced that this seemingly growing focus on neoliberal, market based governance forms obscures other ways of understanding and dealing with problems like climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation.

Egypt UN CBD

But defining a problem is just the first step. How can we move on? I want to therefore propose considering environmental justice in our thinking. The concept explains the fair treatment and strong involvement of all people within the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Three dimensions of it are central to me for enabling the 2050 goal of the CBD: Living in harmony with Nature!

As 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity is contained within the area of Indigenous territories, I will focus my arguments on Indigenous People and Local Communities (IPLC´s) because these actors are central if we want to achieve meaningful goals. The first dimension includes participation. While the CBD, more than the UNFCCC, commits to participation of IPLC´s and elements like Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) are included in the texts, no voting rights exist for IPCL’s. Although it may be difficult if not impossible, I argue that it is central to debate how we can increase the power IPLC´s even if they do not relate to the sovereign states themselves. The second dimension on environmental justice focuses on distribution. Within international and national policies and projects this seems to be well reflected. Access and Benefit sharing frameworks or markets for ecosystem services all consider that providers of biological diversity should receive something in return. Still, it is important that we understand the inherent rights of local Indigenous land and knowledge holders, and how the growing demand of research and industry on genetic resources and traditional ecological knowledge conflict strongly with local access and territorial rights. The third and last dimension of environmental justice includes recognition, the goal to seek equality between different ways of seeing and knowing the world. As the COP and the CBD have a highly formalized way of reaching compromises and to understand problems and solutions, it surely enables economic and technical perspective, but fails to really include other human-nature relationships, other ways of seeing and knowing the world.

I wish that a post-2020 agenda thinks biodiversity conservation and human rights together. That means improving the participation of IPLC´s, enabling an improvement of the recognition of different epistemologies and forms of knowing and achieving through this enhanced distributional justice in policy decisions or material realities. Enabling and facilitating the increasing industry involvement, economic typology and framing needs to be rejected in order to enable other policy solution through problematizing, seeing and understanding our reality differently with the IPLC´s realities of life.