Reflections on the global discussions on biodiversity and trade

Every September, New York City hosts the UN General Assembly and countless events on sustainable development. It is easy to imagine the city as a real debate arena, where politicians negotiate solutions for the multi-crises of the planet, while the entire world watches, expecting tangible outcomes to materialize . The debate reached its peak over a span of three days (18-20 September), when worldwide representatives had to juggle their schedules to attend various equally relevant events, such as the High-level UN Meetings (including the SDG Summit), the Climate Week NYC and the Columbia’s International Conference on Sustainable Development. I attended sessions of these three events, which made me reflect on the role of those policy meetings on protecting biodiversity under trade agreements. These are my main impressions:

There is a clear effort to respond the critic that global multilateral meetings privilege discourse over actions. The SDG Action Weekend and the Climate Week were specifically designed for participants to develop actions together, avoiding speakers to use this space only to reiterate the already-known sustainable development challenges. However, little of those actions addressed the role of trade on biodiversity loss, even on specific biodiversity events. Speakers rather emphasized trade as an instrument for boosting economic development, or, more often, for reducing emissions on agri-food systems throughout value chains. Indeed, climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, however biodiversity loss and climate change are twin crises, and should be addressed together.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s growing influence in foreign affairs has not gone unnoticed, as it assumes leadership roles within both the G20 and BRICS. With the world’s attention focused on the country with the highest biodiversity, there has never been a better time to generate knowledge in support of nature protection. Projects like CLEVER highlight the importance of conserving biodiversity under trade in Brazil while influencing the political agenda by informing policy-makers on trade’s biodiversity impacts.

I left New York City without any doubt that the intentions and knowledge to put the world back on track to achieve the SDGs are there. However, the world is in a hurry and I expect that events like these, above all, accelerate decisions to safeguard future generations. This year, the events took place against the backdrop of a year projected to be the hottest ever on record. Their results should nothing less but guide political agendas with science-based knowledge and urgency.

Learn more about the mentioned NYC sustainability events:

Written by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn

Photos by Fernanda Martinelli / University of Bonn