Update- Continuing Absences in the GA

Al Jazeera reported on the conspicuous absence of the U.S. delegation in the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. With still no comment forthcoming from the White House Press Office, the US delegation has still not arrived by the opening session of the second day of meetings.

Another surprise no-show for day two of the GA was Russia, who had been in attendance yesterday. Initial inquiries to the Kremlin seeking comment on the absence were not given a response. Hours into deliberation, the delayed delegation from Russia arrived and told Al Jazeera that their absence was “not of concern to the general assembly”, a sign of Russia’s commitment to international cooperation, and declared that their tardiness had no connection to the continued absence of the US.

When asked about the absences of both the US and Russia, a representative of Poland said they were unable to pass comment but admitted that it would be “difficult to say how to move forward if Russia doesn’t show.” The Egyptian delegate told Al Jazeera “It’s unfortunate not to have such major players in the room” but that their absense creates opportunities for smaller countries to play a bigger role on the world stage. When Russia returned to committee, both delegates said they welcomed their colleague’s return and were eager to continue the work of the body.

Work in the GA, however, has not slowed due to the absence of some of the world’s largest international players. A representative of Egypt told Al Jazeera that the collective body has accomplished a lot already and is focused on how best to implement the many ideas the committee has identified as they take on any and all issues surrounding biological diversity.

The Egyptian representative told Al Jazeera that the GA has three separate groups working to tackle several approaches to global biodiversity, a group comprised primarily of European countries, a group of primarily Latin American countries, and a group of mostly South Asian countries.

Some members inside the GA, however, are worried that the two powerhouse delegations could be planning to try to block the hard work of the committee. Russia has been openly dismissive of the work done this far in the GA. “We are disheartened to observe a fractured committee… [that] is not working for the betterment of biodiversity but of fractured natural interests” was the Russian delegations official response to Al Jazeera. Delegates seemed frustrated by the tone of the Russian delegation once they arrived, but would continued to express optimism that Russia can play a positive role in ensuring continued commitments to biodiversity.

Al Jazeera obtained a document that has been verified as a potential early draft of their proposal for a resolution. Titled a “Cluster of Ideas 1.0”, the resolution includes a clause that “Encourages [countries] to adopt national programs [to] persuade companies and large corporations… to financially contribute towards the preservation of biodiversity.” The document appears to be sponsored by Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the UK.

Asked about the clause, the representative from Poland confirmed the authenticity of the document and explained that the inspiration for it comes from the initiative of the Walt Disney Corporation’s efforts in preserving the bonobo species. Al Jazeera is unable to confirm any such project regarding a bonobo preservation project, however the Disney WOrldwide Conservation Fund as granted $14 million to conservation programs since 1995. The expectation of the Polish delegate is for private companies to partner with governments to generate funds for preservation projects. It’s been suggested by watchdog groups that in return for providing funds, companies would have strong influence in how those funds would be spent.

The document was shown to Will McCallum of Greenpeace, who was skeptical of the clause. “The idea that ‘large corporations’ could be determining which species are worthy of investment and which aren’t is frightening. It’s not a good idea to have Kellog’s and Geico setting the priorities for environmental policy.”

The ability of the GA to pass the clause within a resolution could be in question. The representative from Egypt considered the latitude of influence that countries could give corporations is too great and would disapprove of such a proposal in the current form.

With or without the clause, the ability for the GA to pass any comprehensive resolutions may hinge upon weather the US and Russian delegations are somehow working together to subvert the work of the committee, or if their absences were simple coincidences.