The role of political fantasies during the Biodiversity Summit

December 9, 2022

Jelle Behagel studies wishful thinking with regard to more nature reserves during the negotiations in Canada.

Many climate and biodiversity goals start as a fantasy, a wish. A group of ecologists, for example, launched the slogan: Nature Needs Half. Meaning that if nature conservation is applied to half of the earth, biodiversity will be able to recover. At the Biodiversity Summit in Canada, the EU proposes to protect 30% of the planet. ‘These percentages are not substantiated’, says Behagel, a Forest and Nature Conservation researcher. ‘We have no idea whether nature will recover if we implement the 50 or 30 per cent conservation wish. These are political fantasies.’

Behagel studies the meaning of such fantasies. ‘Some wishes are projected onto others and have no consequences for ourselves. For example, we want to save the Amazon rainforest, but we also want our steak and coffee. Other wishes require personal transformation. We need to change our society and reduce consumption; if not, we will never achieve our wishes for nature.’

He travels to the conference in Canada to study what fantasies the participating nations bring to the table. Will they suggest solutions that place the responsibility for the recovery of biodiversity on others, or do they advocate personal change? And, with what narrative will they try to convince others? Behagel: ‘How do you get the commitment of others? Generally, rational arguments will not do the trick. You need to appeal to the emotions of others. Thus, I am curious to see what convictions the participants will share.’

Behagel studies diplomacy during international conferences. He is assisted by Master’s student Layla Gegout. She will study what the participants learned from the previous Biodiversity Summit in 2010. That summit was unsuccessful: none of the targets governments agreed on were achieved. Behagel: ‘They agreed to protect more species, but instead, countries increased their fishing catch, palm oil and soy production as well as their livestock count, resulting in continued deforestation and biodiversity loss. Layla will study whether that failure will influence the current participants’ strategies. Will they try again in the same way or choose a different approach?’

This information also serves Behagel in one of his courses, Advanced Environmental International Politics and Diplomacy. Here, he has students mimic international negotiations. In this serious game, ten groups of ‘actors’, including the EU and African countries, offer proposals on which they must negotiate to achieve a joint statement. ‘I must update this course element; I want it to be as close to the real thing as possible.’