Biodiversity Convention COP

I saw Hank Paulson on Bloomberg TV talking about a report his foundation has done for the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Biodiversity Convention.  A press release about the report can be found here, and the report itself can be found here.

At the State Department in the 1992, I was the deputy director of the office of Environment, Health, and Conservation in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science (OES/EHC).  My boss, Eleanor Savage, spent about a year in Nairobi, Kenya, as the senior US representative negotiating the Biodiversity Convention.  The Convention was one of the three main agreements that were to be adopted at a big UN conference in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Convention on Environment and Development (UNCED), held June 3-14, 1992.  The other agreements were the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

President George H.W. Bush (Bush I) attended the conference.  As planning began for it, President Bush said that the Republicans would not let him sign two environmental agreements; he had to choose between the Biodiversity Convention and the Climate Change Convention.  He felt that the climate convention was the most important; so, he could not sign the Biodiversity Convention.  The main opposition to the Biodiversity Convention was led by the office of Vice President Quayle, particularly his chief of staff, the conservative pundit William Kristol.

The Assistant Secretary for the OES Bureau was Buff Bohlen, a member of the famous Bohlen family. His uncle, Chip Bohlen, was Ambassador to the Soviet Union, among other countries.  Chip’s daughter, Avis, also became an ambassador.  Buff (E.U. Curtis) Bohlen had been president of the World Wildlife Fund before he was named assistant secretary.  In that capacity he had been one of the principal architects of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and preservation of wildlife was his main personal concern, which meant that he very much wanted the United States to sign the Biodiversity Convention, but political pressure on the President from Republicans like Kristol meant that we would not sign it.  I remember the disappointment on his face at a staff meeting when it became clear that there was no way to reverse the decision not to sign it.

Although the US did not sign the convention, many other countries did; there are now has 196 parties to it.  Every country that is a member of the UN has ratified the treaty, except the US.  It is now about to hold its 15th Conference of the Parties in Kunming, China, for which the Paulson Institute has prepared its report.

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