UN trying to mitigate undesirable consequences of conducting online negotiations

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, UN Assistant Secretary General & Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada, replies to Dr S Faizi, ecologist based in Thiruvananthapuram, currently Consultant (Biodiversity), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who in a letter to UN Secretary General had said that online negotiations are a “new and serious threat to democratic multilateralism” (Counterview.Org, June 12, 2021):

I wish to refer to your email addressed to the UN Secretary-General regarding the concern raised on remote decision-making in treaty COP bodies meetings which has been directed to me to respond directly. 

First of all, I would like to express my deep appreciation to your long-standing contribution to promoting the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.

I thank you for drawing our attention to the challenges that intergovernmental processes have been faced with due to the suspension of in-person meetings in response to the pandemic situation.

While we overall share the concerns you raised, I hope you are also recognizing the efforts we have been making to mitigate the undesirable consequences of conducting meetings/negotiations online. Your concerns have also been raised in the past by some civil society organizations and the Secretariat and the Bureau have been persistently responding to their concerns and reassuring them that every effort is being made to address the issues.

Please not that all the meetings that the Secretariat has convened in a virtual setting are planned and implemented in accordance with the guidance we receive from the Parties and the Bureau. Indeed, there are several challenges, including connectivity problems, faced by representatives of countries and organizations attending the various online meetings. We, however, believe that the situation has not led to “disenfranchising a large number of countries”. The Secretariat has always made available all the resources at its disposal  to facilitate the conduct of these meetings and increase their effectiveness.

As you may know, the processes under the open-ended bodies (SBSTTA, SBI and the Working Group on post 2020 global biodiversity framework) where negotiations are required to agree on a set of recommendations or, processes under the COP and COP-MOPs which are expected to adopt decisions, have been deferred until it becomes feasible to convening such bodies in-person. In that regard, COP 15 which is expected to take important decisions, including on the new biodiversity framework, is going to have a second part next year where the final negotiations would take place and decisions would be adopted, in an in-person meeting.

Overall, the Secretariat would like to reassure you of its commitment to making each and every process, and in particular, any virtual meeting as consistent and compliant as possible with the established practice and rules of procedure. It spares no effort to make every meeting as inclusive, transparent, and effective, as possible.

I would like to thank you, once again, for sharing with me this important message of concerns. I would also like to use this opportunity to acknowledge the very interesting article on “Ecocides” that you authored and shared with us. Thank you so much for exploring ideas with a view to contributing to the constant discourse on how to improve environmental protection, achieve significant reduction in biodiversity loss, reverse or adapt to climate change, and enhance sustainable development.  

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