CBD rocks, Nairobi Convention drops

Multilateral environment agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have been invited onto the world’s stage whilst older, more regional environmental conventions such as the Nairobi Convention have been relegated to the back seats, said Nature Seychelles’ CEO Nirmal Jivan Shah this week.

Mr Shah has just returned to Seychelles from a week long workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, where he had been invited by signatories to the Nairobi Convention to give a talk on the role of non-governmental organisations in the convention.

At the workshop Mr Shah proposed an “Extreme Makeover” for the Convention to enable it to move to the next level. This would include making space for NGOs, sharing Government commitments with civil society, focusing on implementation, and linking the Convention to a funding mechanism.

“We need to ‘Pimp our Convention’,” said Mr Shah, making reference to the need for modernizing, mainstreaming and marketing the Convention.

The Nairobi Convention (or to give it its full title, the Convention for the Protection, Management, and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region) was signed in 1985 and aims to protect and manage the marine environment and coastal areas of the East African region.

While pollution on land can usually be clearly identified as the responsibility of the country in which the land is found, the mobility and lack of border fences in the sea led to the signing of the Convention. Signatories agree to take action to combat pollution of the maritime area covered by the convention and ensure the sound environmental management of natural resources within it.

It also saw agreement amongst the signatories to cooperate on the drafting of further protection protocols and the sharing of scientific and technical information to strengthen the protection offered to the area and is financially supported by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) using funds from NORAD, WWF, UNEP/ICRAN and the Coastal Zone Management Centre of the Netherlands.

But while the convention was a major force through the 1980’s, its influence declined during the 1990’s and today bigger and newer international conventions have grabbed the global environmental spotlight.
National governments have tagged their names onto the most “glamorous” international agreements available, leaving the less fashionable to slowly fall out of favour, allowing enforcement to decrease and the good work achieved in the early days of the conventions to be lost.

Into this vacuum of sidelined conventions ngo’s are now forging space for greater involvement and authority and speaking directly to international bodies, such as the UNEP, for more direct responsibility.
And the proposal by Mr Shah to boost ngo involvement caught the attention of all participants, not least the convention’s secretariat.

“For the first time, we heard new alternatives from NGOs, we may not have liked what we heard, but we heard it? As a Secretariat, we shall work towards improving the Convention's visibility and effectiveness especially at the national level. We will seek closer partnerships with and work more closely with NGOs,” wrote Dixon Wariunge, head of the Nairobi Convention Secretariat..

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