The Nagoya Protocol: the first step towards saving the endangered Unicorn?

If a Society for the Preservation of Unicorns1 were to put out commentary or a press release about important but largely unreported UN biodiversity meetings, I'd imagine it would go a little like this:

unicornhabitatbb.jpg(Public domain image adapted from NOAA photo library. Slide available here).

Well, it's been a few days since the Nagoya COP102 conference has wrapped up, and by all accounts, people have deemed it relatively successful. That is, the conference that was meant to set some goals in the preservation of global biodiversity has (largely due to the admirable persistence of Japanese officials) managed to get government types to agree to a strategic plan with a number of environmentally friendly targets (nicknamed the 2020 Aichi Targets3 for those of you who like to keep track of such things).

Although the word "rainbow" did not make a single appearance in the text, the targets did nevertheless include obvious things like percentages of land and ocean to set aside for preservation (17% and 10%), and overarching statements that promised, "to at least halve and where feasible bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats including forests (by 2020)."

This was no mean feat, since many of the poorer developing countries argued (and rightly so) that such targets would cost their already strained economies a lot of money, both in terms of getting the actual preservation work done, and also in terms of "I'm losing a lot of revenue if you rather I don't cut my trees, fish my waters, make biofuels, saddle my unicorns, etc." As a result, an agreement for the developed countries (who in principle have already historically benefited from the degradation of their own biodiversity) to provide funding for developing nations had to be worked out. However, the details (and as you all know, unicorns are all about the details) are still basically vague, and in fact have been set for further discussion bearing in mind the dates of future UN meetings.

This postponing, of course, is an old trick, and we are fully aware that similar tactics were what made the Kyoto Protocol an ultimately laughable experience. As well, members of our community, like others, will continue to examine the benefits (or lack thereof) of setting such conservative preservation numbers, since many environmental groups had hoped for numbers between 20% and 30%.

We do, however, applaud the target that enacts a moratorium of large-scale geoengineering projects. For our younger unicorn readers, this is where science based but essentially high-risk ventures were put forth (usually as a last resort) to "alter" atmospheric conditions in an attempt to halt climate change. Examples included the pumping of sulphur dioxide into the upper levels of the atmosphere4, as well as our now defunct but still highly contested "albedo5 due to tons of glitter in the air" proposal. Today, many of our unicorn scientists are in agreement that it would be irresponsible to enact such dramatic mitigation without further analysis on its effect on biodiversity.

Perhaps the most striking and important outcome of the entire meeting was a consensus on ABS, or Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources6. Briefly, the primary purpose of this is to provide protection of traditional biodiversity knowledge by allowing a mechanism for profit sharing. For example, this might entail a pharmaceutical company sharing an agreed portion of its revenues, if such revenues partially resulted from specimens and traditional knowledge derived from a specific (and usually developing/poorer) nation.

This document, known as the Nagoya Protocol7, is crucial as it paves the way for setting up policies which "put value on biodiversity" particularly for accounting purposes. In other words, this lays the groundwork for recognizing that unicorns have inherent worth due to their roles in tourism, publishing, water cycles (rainbow production), alternative energy (carbon neutral unicorn power), and productivity (via promotion of warm fuzzy feelings of awesomeness or WFFOAs8). Furthermore, if governments and businesses honor the Nagoya Protocol, such values would be systematically calculated and internalized into policy decision. This is a significant step forward for those who feel that biodiversity preservation is best served by introducing economic measures, and at the very least provides yet another rubric for biodiversity book-keeping9.

Although this shift towards a fiscal view of biodiversity is another point of debate, we at the Society for the Preservation of Unicorns admittedly have no official stance on this matter, given the widely known axiom that unicorns are categorically ignorant of economics as a discipline. However, despite this, it has been discussed that all unicorns will henceforth be asked to boycott Canadian visits given Canada's poor conduct at Nagoya: this relates specifically to the country's forceful (and in our view shameful) removal of all mention of the UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples in the ABS agreement10.

As a final thought, our community has been troubled by the overall lack of media coverage of this meeting. Given its importance and scope, we were especially disappointed by the lack of western media coverage. Perhaps, the disconnect between humans and nature11 is so complete that even the threat of unicorn extinction is not enough to rally society. Indeed, we wonder, perhaps cynically, if in this world of celebrity and consumerism, the general public would have paid more attention if the loss of a beloved fictional beast12 was at stake.


1. FYI, there is actually a Unicorn Preservation Society in existence, although it is all about the preservation of an historic boat, the HM Frigate Unicorn

2. See Nagoya conference primer here.

3. "Aichi Targets": downloadable pdf of press release here (accessed November 2, 2010).

4. See references at Wikipedia entry on Stratospheric sulfate aerosols (accessed November 2, 2010)

5. See Wikipedia entry on albedo – link (accessed November 2, 2010)

6. Description as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (accessed November 2, 2010)

7. Word document of draft text can be found here (accessed November 2, 2010).

8. Pronounced: wuh-fo-ah

9. As summarized by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) – website

10. Also noted by the CBD Alliance – link (accessed November 2, 2010)

11. As exemplified by this.

12. Like this one?