A New Year for Biodiversity Conservation?

When the ball dropped at 12:00 am on Friday, the International Year of Biodiversity began, in line with the United Nations' goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 (Target 2 of Millennium Development Goal 7.) If you were watching Times Square revelers on television, any regard to biodiversity conservation may have seemed ludicrous -- although this year's ball was designed with LED bulbs and only used the power of "two traditional home ovens," it descended in the midst of what is likely one of the most wasteful five-block radii in the world.

Any prominence environmental issues can gain in the media is good news, and declaring 2010 the year in which the international community will "halt" biodiversity loss is definitely worth celebrating. But on the heels of Copenhagen, it is difficult to believe a series of celebrations and talks will result in concrete legislation or change. Education and community involvement are always positive steps, but environmentalists disappointed with the nonbinding outcome of Copenhagen are justifiably skeptical.

A story in yesterday's New York Times addressed just this frustration, referring to the Copenhagen aftermath as a "vast legal tangle." The Copenhagen Accord, a document drafted in the waning hours of the conference, is ambitious yet legally unbinding. Critics are disappointed, viewing it as nothing more than four pages of suggestions for combating global warming.

At the same time, the Accord has supporters who see it as a great symbolic step, marking the first time ever that all major carbon emitters of the world have mutually agreed to cut their emissions. The Accord also calls on nations to declare their emissions targets to the UN (due at the end of this month), and states the necessity for the UN to monitor and enforce those commitments. The problem with these agreements is they remain unbinding, and plans for how the Accord will be implemented remain to be seen.

In the meantime, we can set our sights at home on the climate bill in the Senate which, despite rumors of postponement, is still expected to pass in some form in 2010.