Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Reverence for life

The Convention on Biological Diversity: in force for 25 years
23 May, 2018 - 16:43
Photo from The Day’s archives

The International Day for Biological Diversity (World Biodiversity Day), marked on May 22, occupies a special place among numerous dates in the United Nations calendar, for it is a proper occasion to reflect on the integrity and diversity of the world we live in and our responsibility for it. Taking care of all the living beings that populate our planet, humankind not only satisfies all of its daily needs and ensures the continuity of its own existence, but also forms a moral imperative which Albert Schweitzer formulated as reverence for life.

The International Day for Biological Diversity is marked in order to draw the attention of the public, representatives of various sectors of the economy and business, politicians and officials to the problem of the degradation of genetic, specific, and ecosystemic diversity on Earth, to the necessity of taking urgent measures to stop dangerous eco-crisis phenomena and supporting natural life support systems (stable climates, fertile soils, self-purification of water bodies, restoration of the populations of animals and plants, etc.). A special topic of this year’s World Biodiversity Day is the 25th anniversary of the day when the Convention on Biological Diversity came into force after being ratified by 196 countries. The convention is an international legal document that provides instruments for the preservation of biodiversity, well-balanced usage of its components, and a fair distribution of the benefits of genetic resources. Now the world community as a whole and individuals should assess impartially and critically the effectiveness of this instrument’s performance, the steps and efforts made, as well as achievements and mistakes in the preservation of living world. The Ukrainian state is a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity and, hence, bears responsibility before its people and the global community.

Marking this year’s World Biodiversity Day in Ukraine, it is worthwhile to recall Yaroslav Movchan (August 11, 1957 – September 18, 2017), a noted ecologist, Doctor of Sciences (Biology), who made a lot of efforts for Ukraine to get effective levers for pursuing an international-standard environmental policy and made an invaluable contribution to the formation of a national strategy of biodiversity preservation and nature conservation with active participation of the public.

Movchan was a brilliant and multifaceted person. Scientific research, civic activism, love of nature and his native country, a sincere aspiration to change the world for the better, and selfless work to achieve this goal close interwove in his life. He belonged to the cohort of the people whose interests went far beyond the limits of their specialty, botany, and he was capable of thinking strategically and comprehensively and seeing problems more broadly and deeply. When he was still a Ph.D. seeker at the Ukrainian SSR Institute of Botany (now the Mykola Kholodny Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine), he took part in annual all-union (from 1991 – international) seminars “World-View and Scientific Knowledge” organized by the Ukrainian SSR Institute of Philosophy (now Hryhorii Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy), where philosophers and naturalists discussed topical philosophical problems of scientific and technological progress, methods of scientific research, interconnection of science and culture, etc. In the Soviet era, those seminars were sort of an oasis for a free exchange of opinions and critical thinking. One of the key themes was environmental protection – from the definition of the subject to the particularities of society’s ecological awareness and culture.

Environmental, or, to be more exact, socio-environmental topics attracted an ever-wider circle of researchers because ecological crises became obvious in the USSR in the 1980s and more and more people saw that the communist party-imposed ideological cliche that ecological crises are a sign of the “decaying West” did not hold water and was finally effaced in 1986 after the Chornobyl disaster. Movchan wrote in this connection that an increased interest in ecology demands that the latter be defined more precisely and its status in the system of sciences be established. In his opinion, ecology should be a theory and method of nature management, and the latter can be treated as applied ecology. Having accepted the axiom that “what is ecological is economic,” Movchan devoted all of his lifetime to its practical implementation, from the early 1990s to the last breath.

April 1986 signaled the beginning of a new stage in the societal life of Ukraine: it saw the emergence of nongovernmental organizations and movements (Ukrainian ecological association Green World, Popular Movement of Ukraine, etc.) which set a goal to assess the current situation in Ukraine and answer the question why the environmental condition around big industrial cities was critical, rivers were polluted, lands were totally plowed up and eroded, etc. At that time, the answer seemed obvious: it will be possible to slow down and overcome ecological crises in a politically independent Ukraine, when the country will tap its natural resources thriftily by applying new technologies and economic patterns, and care about people’s health and wellbeing will be a top priority.

The early 1990s were a time of challenges for Ukraine, for, in practice, building an independent state turned out to be a much more difficult job. At the same time, that period opened a window of opportunities. In 1992, Ukraine took part in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, where it signed a number of important international documents (Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, Framework Convention on Climate Change, Convention on Biological Diversity, etc.), taking a lot of commitments to the world community. At the same time, the signing of these documents made it quite possible to form a national environmental strategy in accordance with international principles and criteria and to engage in global- and European-level cooperation for the purpose of sustained and balanced development.

The policy of biodiversity preservation in independent Ukraine complies with the Convention on Biological Diversity which came into force in May 1995 and was signed and ratified by Ukraine in June 1992 and 1995, respectively. Yet, to meet the convention’s requirements, it was necessary to have a lot of resources and specialists capable of thinking and acting with due account of new challenges. Yaroslav Movchan was one of those who promoted the modern policy of biodiversity preservation in Ukraine. He was doing this as Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection of Ukraine (in 1993-98, from 1995 – Deputy Minister of Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine), consultant for ecological and land issues at the Verkhovna Rada Secretariat (1999-2000), laboratory head at the Institute of Ecology and Natural Resources Studies of the National Security and Defense Council (1999-2000), department chief at the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine (2000-06). He took part in drawing up and implementing legislative acts aimed at conserving nature, preserving biodiversity, developing the nature-reserve fund and the environmental protection network, etc. Movchan actively participated on behalf of Ukraine in conferences of the parties to the convention, which earned him immense prestige among his foreign colleagues, drew up legal, institutional, and economic mechanisms of fulfilling the conference’s decisions in Ukraine.

Let us hope that Yaroslav Movchan’s cause will serve more than one generation of Ukrainians. But the successful continuation of it depends on all of us.

Tetiana Hardashuk is a Doctor of Sciences (Philosophy), a member of the European Sustainable Use Group (ESUG)