Earlier this year I was asked if I would want to have the Moa bird brought back from extinction. The question wasn’t random, it was posed at a workshop on Synthetic Biology & Conservation by someone who is part of a small group of scientists working on “de-extinction.” The workshop was an exploratory meeting designed to bring together the synthetic biology and conservation communities to discuss the implications that synthetic biology may have on the natural world and conservation.
Conference organiser and CEESP and CEM member, Kent Redford, introduced the workshop by saying "Extinction might not be forever if synthetic biologists and others pursue their proposals to use advanced genetic engineering techniques to save endangered species and return extinct ones".
Kent’s report on the meeting is included in this Newsletter. It was a fascinating meeting that provided a glimpse into an area of science that at one level was new to me, but at another level (social, cultural, ethical concerns) was very familiar to the early days of the discussions on genetic research on indigenous peoples and use of intellectual property assertions for traditional foods. This is a controversial area of science that requires broader discussion on the social, cultural ethical issues.
My response to the question was No. I don’t favour bringing the moa or woolly mammoth back from extinction. Back to what? What quality of life? No because we’re not taking care of the species we share mother earth with now. No because bringing back extinct species is simply not a high priority for addressing the environmental and social justice issues facing so many in the world. No because some species have had their time – they lived and moved on and bringing them back would be akin to bringing ancestors back. There will be different responses to the vision of de-extinction. What are your thoughts?
Following this meeting, I participated in the UNESCO International Congress on Culture: The Key to Sustainable Development held in Hangzhou, China together with the Co-Chairs of the CEESP Theme on Culture and Conservation. The Congress examined the multifaceted role of culture in achieving sustainable development goals and aimed to influence the inclusion of culture in the post-2015 global development framework. A substantial outcome document of the Congress was the Hangzhou Proclamation on Culture and Sustainable Development a copy of which can be read later in this newsletter. Culture has been the missing link in the pillar approach to sustainable development. I say pillar approach because the existing three – economics – environmental and social have tended to progress in isolation of each other, as solitary pillars, rather than as an integrated whole that collectively provides the foundation for development. The result has favoured economic development over all others. For sustainable development to work the four elements economics – environment – social – cultural need to be inter-twined and progressed on an equal footing.
I also joined several CEESP members at a technical workshop on bio-cultural conservation convened at the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Warner College of Natural Resources, Colorado State University. This was a rare opportunity to brainstorm on bio-cultural conservation issues and plan future projects for CEESP. The meeting established a new Working Group on Bio-Cultural Conservation which will be part of the Theme on Culture and Conservation.
More recently I presented the work of CEESP on the Natural Resources Governance Framework (NRGF) to He Manawa Whenua Indigenous Research Conference. An impressive gathering of over 300, this represented an invaluable opportunity to get early feedback from indigenous researchers on the aims and process for development of CEESP’s contribution to the NRGF consistent with our stated goal of ensuring the framework is accessible and useful to indigenous communities .There is an update on the NRGF in this newsletter. More information on the conference can be found at: http://www.waikato.ac.nz/rangahau/hemanawawhenua.
I also had an opportunity to meet with Pavan Sukhdev who presented a keynote address to the Valuing Nature Conference convened by Victoria University of Wellington on July 9th. I asked Pavan how he responds to those who do not agree with the TEEB approach of using natural capital as a means to encourage greater uptake of sustainability by businesses and policy makers (TEEB The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity). What followed was an interesting discussion about the urgent need to do something to halt unsustainable development at a larger scale of impact than has been achieved to date.
Governments simply aren’t making enough progress and there is much the private sector can do, and has done, with visionary leadership. Targeting private sector, remaining engaged in international policy and standards setting, working with government policy makers, mobilising civil society are all components of the Commission’s mandate. It is important that progress is steadily advanced on all fronts. For more information on the Conference refer: http://www.valuingnature.org.nz/the-conference/ For more information on TEEB refer: http://www.teebweb.org/
2013 is shaping up to be an extremely busy time for CEESP. We accepted the challenge of taking a lead role in developing two new ‘knowledge baskets’ for IUCN, the Natural Resources Governance Framework and Human Dependency on Nature Framework. This work, along with preparations for the World Parks Congress are proving to be both demanding and resource intensive requiring additional Co-Chairs to be appointed to some Themes and Specialist Groups and increased efforts in fund-raising. Some of the new members of the CEESP-SC and NRGF teams are introduced in this newsletter.
CEESP is planning to hold an Executive Committee meeting and seminar in Amman, Jordan in December this year. West Asia is the region with the lowest number of CEESP members and hence is a priority for the Commission to increase our profile through demonstrating relevance to the peoples and issues of the region.
For my final term on the IUCN Council, I volunteered to contribute to the Steering Committee for the Framework of Action to Strengthen the Union as well as the Council Private Sector Task Force.
Feel free to contact me if you wish to find out more details on any of the articles in the newsletter or to respond to my comments. I’d welcome your thoughts/reactions to my comments on Synthetic Biology and de-extinction.
Aroha Te Pareake Mead
Chair, IUCN CEESP