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We can always find a [CoP] decision to justify what we want to do. —CBD Secretariat staff member, June 2006 Biodiversity loss is an intractable global environmental problem. Despite some of the oldest international regimes, widespread nongovernmental organization (NGO) activity, and a plethora of national-level institutions to address species and habitat loss, biodiversity loss continues to accelerate at an alarming rate. Current extinction rates are estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than the background extinction rate derived from the fossil record (Singh 2002, 646), with 27,000 species lost per year in tropical forests alone (Myers 1993, 74). Scientists estimate that if current extinction rates continue, we will lose 50 percent or more of all species by the end of the twenty-first century (Myers 1993, 75). Sadly, the most recent scientific studies indicate that the rate of loss does not appear to be slowing, despite a wide array of policy initiatives aimed at abating this problem (Butchart et al. 2010). In short, we are losing biodiversity quickly, and our current political strategies are doing little to solve the problem. The reason curbing biodiversity loss is difficult is not a lack of knowledge about drivers or available solutions. Although scientific uncertainty exists surrounding precise figures and many species disappear before scientists have even named them (Singh 2002), broad consensus exists that biodiversity loss is happening quickly and that it is largely driven by habitat loss and, increasingly, by climate change. The reason biodiversity loss is so difficult to address is because conservation is a value-laden enterprise with varied understandings of not only why biodiversity is important, but also what it is to begin with. Indeed, leading scientists diverge in opinion about what “biodiversity” actually means (Takacs 1996). More importantly, even when a definition can be agreed on for 4 Origins of Overlap Management in the Biodiversity Regime Complex 68 Chapter 4 the purposes of political action, biodiversity conservation often pits the privileged conservation-oriented “green” concerns of the industrialized world against the development-oriented “brown” concerns of the developing world—a division that characterizes much of global environmental politics (Allen and You 2002). This problem is enflamed by the mismatch between the geographic reality of where biodiversity and those most concerned about its loss are physically located: most of the world’s biodiversity is located in developing countries (Myers et al. 2000), while most of those with the financial capacity to prioritize it are located in developed countries. Further, those most concerned with biodiversity loss cannot seem to find a justification for conservation that sticks. Justifications include everything from aesthetic and inherent value to economic (e.g., ecosystem services) and medicinal values. Unfortunately, none of these framings have yet gained enough traction to actually solve the problem. As a result of this complexity, global biodiversity governance has evolved in a stepwise and fragmented manner. Countries have found common ground on which to cooperate only by focusing on narrow slices of the broader biodiversity loss problem. Accordingly, there are well over 150 international treaties chipping away at the problem, with biodiversity-related treaties making up the vast majority of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) currently in force (data from Mitchell 2013).1 Together, these agreements attempt to govern global biodiversity loss via a “collective of partially overlapping and nonhierarchical regimes”—what we might call the biodiversity “regime complex” (Raustiala and Victor 2004, 277). Table 4.1 lists some of the treaties that make up the biodiversity regime complex, highlighting the diversity of topics addressed and the long time span along which they have emerged. Although fragmentation of governance is a symptom of broader ailments in global environmental politics (Biermann et al. 2009), the trend is especially problematic for global biodiversity regimes. Ecosystems are complex webs of life, with species dependent on one another and their biophysical environment for survival and propagation in ways that we are just beginning to understand. In contrast, the fragmented political context of conservation largely assumes that species and small areas of land can be protected in isolation, when in fact biologists have long asserted that a holistic ecosystem approach to conservation is necessary to success. Although some MEAs, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), do adopt an ecosystem approach, their ability to employ it on a large scale is heavily impeded by the political complexities Origins of Overlap Management in the Biodiversity Regime Complex 69 Table 4.1 Sample of Biodiversity Treaties (1935–2013) MEA Entry into Force (year...


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