15Oct Destroying God’s Creation – Seán McDonagh SSC

During the past few years I have been writing about climate change. In fact, I was one of the drafters of the Bishops’ pastoral reflection on climate change, called The Cry of the Earth. Like many of youI was deeply disappointed at the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference on climate change last December.  Many scientists,  involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and working in climate change research centres, share the frustration that politicians and corporations are dragging their feet when it comes to tackling climate change.

In 2001, a number of U.S. scientists, including the renowned Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson wrote a letter to President George W Bush pleading with him to “reduce” the U.S.  production of greenhouse gases.  Wilson is obviously concerned about climate change but he considers that the “quenching of life’s exuberance will be more consequential to humanity than all present day warming, ozone depletion and pollution combined.”[1]

A decade earlier, Professor Wilson wrote the book, The Diversity of Life. In it he estimated that 27,000 species are being lost each year. He warned that the extinction of species will soar as the last remaining areas of tropical forests are exploited and destroyed.  The best current estimate is that we are now losing  40,000 species each year and that this will increase dramatically as climate change begins to impact on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  People might respond by saying that isn’t extinction part of the history of life on the planet? Didn’t the dinosaurs become extinct at the end of the Mesozoic period (Middle Life) over 60 million years ago?  And even since then plants and animals have become extinct on a regular basis.  The difficulty and tragedy today is that extinction is now occurring at between 1,000 and 10,000 times the background extinction rate during the past 60 million years.

Concern about the mass destruction of species, at both national and international levels, began to surface in the 1980s.  In response, the United Nations Environment  Programme set up a working group to design international laws and conventions to protect biodiversity.  At the Earth Summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14 1992, 150 countries signed the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). The CBD is an international legally-binding treaty which covers biodiversity at all levels, ecosystems, species and genetic resources. It has three principle goals.  First and foremost, it is designed to conserve biodiversity and stop extinction.  Secondly, it encourages the sustainable use of biodiversity at national and international levels. Finally, it promotes a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. This objective has been a bone of contention between rich and poor countries since 1992. Much of the genetic riches of the world are found in countries in the tropics which often are economically poor. In the past, corporations from rich nations have often taken genetic resources and knowledge from poor countries without authorization or any plan to share the enormous economic benefits with the communities where the genetic resources were found. Under pressure no doubt from its biotech corporations, the United States has refused to sign the CBD.

The overall objective of the CBD is to encourage actions which will lead to a sustainable future for humankind and the rest of creation.  The CBD’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP).  The ultimate authority rests with the governments which have signed and ratified the convention. The Secretariat of the CBD is based in Montreal, Canada.  Its mandate is to assist governments in implementing the CBD. It does this by organising meetings, drafting documents and co-ordinating with other international organisations. The Executive Secretary is the head of the Secretariat.   Ahmed Djoghlaf, from Algeria is the current executive secretary of the CBD.

An important function of the Secretariat is to organise a meeting of the parties who have signed the treaty every two years in order to review progress, set out  priorities and challenge government to stick to commitments which are made at these meetings.

Currently, 190 countries have ratified the CBD.  The 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) will meet in the city of Nagoya in Japan from October 18th to 29th.  COP 10 will review the progress which has been made since 2002. The executive secretary is hoping that COP 10 will agree on a “frame work protocol with a clear road map” to protect biodiversity.[2] You might like to mention this important convention during your homilies during the next two weeks and also included petitions in the prayers of the faithful,  that the member countries rise to the challenge of protecting God’s creation for this and future generations.  Maybe you might think of ringing the bells in your church as a sign that your Christian community is concerned about protecting God’s creation and also as a sign of mourning for what the creatures which are being forced over the precipice of extinction by the way humans are living today.

As Ahmed Djoghlaf, points out. “biodiversity is the air that we breathe, it the food that we eat, is the protein that we eat, is the marine (species), is fish, it’s everything. Without biodiversity, you would never be able to sustain life on earth.”[3]


[1] Edward O Wilson, “Vanishing Before Our Eyes,” Time Special Edition, April/May 2000, page 30.

[2] www. japantoday.com/category/national/view/un-biodiversity-chief-seeks-nagoya-protocol-on-genetic-resource-use> downloaded on September 1st 2001.

[3] www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/un-biodiversity-chief-seeks-nagoya-on-genetic-resourse-use downloaded on October 13th 2010.


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