COP15 Indigenous presser

Indigenous representatives of Latin American countries hold a press conference during the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, on December 8, 2022. (Photo: Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)

COP15 Biodiversity Summit Highlights 'Deadly' US Attitude Toward the World

"While others play by the rules, the most powerful nation refuses," writes George Monbiot. "If this country were a person, we'd call it a psychopath. As it is not a person, we should call it what it is: a rogue state."

With a global biodiversity summit underway in Montreal, Guardian columnist George Monbiot on Friday took aim at the United States for its "active, and deadly, cavalier attitude" toward the rest of the world, "an example other nations follow."

"Its refusal to ratify treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity provides other nations with a permanent excuse to participate in name only."

Although U.S. President Joe Biden recently appointed Monica Medina as the first special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, and his administration is participating in the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United States is notably not a party to the treaty, which was drafted in 1992.

In fact, the United States is the only United Nations member state not to ratify the treaty. The other 192 U.N. countries, the European Union, Cook Islands, Niue, and Palestine are all parties to the CBD--leaving the U.S. in the company of just the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church.

Former President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1993, but U.S. ratification requires 67 votes in the Senate--in which Democrats secured a 51-seat majority with Sen. Raphael Warnock's runoff victory on Tuesday, only to have Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona leave the party and declare herself an Independent on Friday.

As Monbiot highlighted:

This is one of several major international treaties the U.S. has refused to ratify. Among the others are crucial instruments such as the Rome Statute on international crimes, the treaties banning cluster bombs and landmines, the convention on discrimination against women, the Basel Convention on hazardous waste, the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the nuclear test ban treaty, the Employment Policy Convention, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

In some cases, it is one of only a small number to refuse: The others are generally either impoverished states with little administrative capacity or vicious dictatorships. It is the only independent nation on Earth not to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Perhaps this is because it is the only nation to sentence children to life imprisonment without parole, among many other brutal policies. While others play by the rules, the most powerful nation refuses. If this country were a person, we'd call it a psychopath. As it is not a person, we should call it what it is: a rogue state.

Monbiot argued that "through its undemocratic dominance of global governance, the U.S. makes the rules, to a greater extent than any other state. It also does more than any other to prevent both their implementation and their enforcement. Its refusal to ratify treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity provides other nations with a permanent excuse to participate in name only. Like all imperial powers, its hegemony is expressed in the assertion of its right not to care."

"The question that assails those who strive for a kinder world is always the same but endlessly surprising: How do we persuade others to care?" he continued. "The lack of interest in resolving our existential crises, expressed by the U.S. Senate in particular, is not a passive exceptionalism. It is an active, proud, and furious refusal to care about the lives of others. This refusal has become the motive force of the old-new politics now sweeping the world. It appears to be driving a deadly, self-reinforcing political cycle."

After outlining an example of destructive farming practices in the Netherlands, Monbiot stressed the urgency of the current moment, writing that due to years of failures, "we now approach multiple drastic decision points, at which governments must either implement changes in months that should have happened over decades, or watch crucial components of civic life collapse, including the most important component of all: a habitable planet."

Scientists continue to raise alarm about the intertwined climate and biodiversity crises, warning that immediate, ambitious action must be taken on the global scale--including transforming agricultural and energy systems--to limit dangerous temperature increases and species loss.

"As we rush towards these precipices, we are likely to see an ever more violent refusal to care," Monbiot wrote. For example, rich nations have the "twin duties of care and responsibility" to accept refugees fleeing climate and ecological breakdown, but doing so "could trigger a new wave of reactive, far-right politics" that "would cut off meaningful environmental action."

"In other words, we face the threat of a self-perpetuating escalation of collapse," he concluded. "This is the spiral we must seek to break. With every missed opportunity--and the signs suggest that the Montreal summit might be another grave disappointment--the scope for gentle action diminishes and the rush towards drastic decisions accelerates. Some of us have campaigned for years for soft landings. But that time has now passed. We are in the era of hard landings. We must counter the rise of indifference with an overt and conspicuous politics of care."

The column comes as attendees and experts warn COP15 represents "the make-or-break moment" for the variety of life on Earth, given the rate at which species are disappearing--largely driven by "deforestation, overfishing, corporate agribusiness megafarming, and extraction of natural resources"--with major implications for humanity.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, advocates are pushing for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) that includes:

  • Protections for at least 30% of lands and waters by 2030;
  • Policies to prevent or reduce invasive species by 50%;
  • The elimination of plastic waste;
  • The reduction of pesticides in the environment by at least two-thirds;
  • The recognition of Indigenous peoples' rights and central role in protecting biodiversity; and
  • At least $100 billion in annual funding for developing countries to protect wildlife, provided by wealthy governments.

While some are preparing for the Chinese-hosted conference in Canada to be another disappointment--one advocacy group on Monday published a report exposing corporate capture of not only the developing framework but all work related to the treaty over the past three decades--rich nations, including and especially the United States, are still facing pressure to step up.

Will Gartshore, World Wildlife Fund's senior director for government affairs and advocacy, said Monday that "WWF will continue advocating for the virtues of the U.S. joining the convention. But in the meantime, there is much that the U.S. can do to align itself with the goals of the agreement and ensure the success of the COP15 negotiations" and resulting framework.

Pointing to the "America the Beautiful" plan unveiled last year, Gartshore said that "the Biden administration has sent important signals about its commitment to halting and reversing nature loss by proposing to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 and by launching new initiatives to protect global forests, account for nature's economic value, and mobilize nature-based solutions to climate change."

"And by appointing the first-ever U.S. special envoy for biodiversity and water resources, the president has elevated the issue and put nature firmly on America's diplomatic agenda, alongside climate change," he continued. "All of these moves signal to other countries that the U.S. is in the game even if it is not directly at the negotiating table, and that they should strive for ambitious outcomes knowing the U.S. is taking commensurate actions of its own."

Gartshore added that "the other critical role the U.S. can play to further positive outcomes at COP15 and beyond is by mobilizing increased resources for the implementation of a global biodiversity framework and influencing other countries to do the same. As Congress works to finalize a U.S. government funding bill by the end of the year, WWF is making the case that it should include significant new resources to support the conservation of nature, particularly in developing countries that house much of our planet's remaining biodiversity."

Writing Thursday for Project Syndicate, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) also noted the Biden administration's recent envoy appointment and embrace of the 30x30 goal, and called for the U.S. to positively contribute to what "may be the world's last best chance to reverse biodiversity loss."

According to Feingold:

Although the U.S. itself is not a party to the CBD--owing to bipartisan divisions and opposition from various interest groups--its heavyweight status affords it ample opportunities to contribute, including by influencing the debate over the final language of the framework.

Moreover, the U.S. can help build partnerships, influence key decision-makers, and create new incentives for conservation efforts around the world. It can advocate stronger incentives for country-specific commitments to achieve the most urgent conservation goals. It can help to secure the financing and funding pledges needed to support low- and middle-income countries' efforts to achieve global conservation goals and protect their local ecosystems. And it can integrate conservation into its international development policies, thus helping to offset the cost of biodiversity conservation in these countries.

While Monbiot declared in a tweet about his column that "the U.S. is leading by example--the worst possible example in an ecological emergency," Feingold suggested that "the Biden administration's recent initiatives could redefine America's conservation movement, enabling the U.S. to lead by example and set the standard for conservation on the continent."

"It is a country that can use its enormous power and global influence--be it economic, cultural, or political--to help the world shape a new and desperately needed global biodiversity framework," he added. "Despite divisions over other issues, the U.S. can achieve an internal consensus on the need to protect its great natural heritage, and to support the global conservation agenda through funding commitments and capacity-building initiatives. That consensus cannot come soon enough. With the clock ticking down, COP15 must be seen as an urgent wake-up call."

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