Below article is sourced from Focus magazine published by MCI
India pledges global innovation through sustainability
Global progress on efforts to support and promote biodiversity and meet the Aichi Biodiversity Targets* was presented and debated at the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CoP11 to CBD), held at Hyderabad, India, from 1-19 October 2012. Hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, in cooperation with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal and the United Nations Environment Programme, CoP11 was organised by MCI.
With more than 11,500 participants from 170 countries in attendance including 80 Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the 20-day convention featured over 900 sessions focused on elements of the Strategic Plan including: Marine & Coastal Biodiversity, Climate Change & Biodiversity, Development & Biodiversity and Biodiversity of Dry and Sub-humid Lands, Forests, Inland Waters, Agricultural Biodiversity, Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, Plant Conservation, Biofuels and Invasive Alien Species.
Throughout the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020, governments around the world have been encouraged to develop, implement and communicate the results of national implementation strategies for the UN’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity.
Mr Hem Pande, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, talks to us about the impact of CoP11 on the Indian community, the government’s strategic approach to sustainability and key tactical objectives.
Was it a difficult process to bring this United Nations event to India?
It is always a privilege for a country to be chosen to host a UN event. In India’s case, we had to showcase why India is apt for such an event, we had to showcase our organising capacity, work on biodiversity in general and scientific temperament. All these factors got the event to India.
Asia is a huge growth market for international events and associations. How would you convince someone considering bringing a large-scale conference to India?
Having a conference in Asia provides the organisers with the opportunity to have maximum participation, as the majority of the expected participants are from this part of the world. The area also has quite a few good conference venues – Bangkok, Bali, Singapore, and of late Hyderabad in India, which we have shown by being the 11th city to host the CoP11 to CBD and by far being one of the most successful so far. So these are the cities which on their own are attracting conferences to Asia. It is a growing market and these are the emerging destinations.
How would you differentiate between China and India in terms of global business opportunity?
I would not like to differentiate, as both countries have their unique strengths and opportunities. Soon there will be a time when India and China will have almost half of the world’s GDP. The huge factor is the population, the domestic market is enormous in both these countries, which attracts global investors. A unique challenge in India is that we are a democratic society which is also the key differentiating factor.
How is the rapidly growing middle class in India affecting the population’s thirst for knowledge?
It is affecting it hugely. The access to technology encourages us to gain more knowledge. Indians are inquisitive by nature, it is in our DNA. A lot of scientific growth started from India and a lot of eminent thinkers have rated India highly for its thirst for knowledge and contribution to civilisation and science. I quote words of Mark Twain: ‘India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.’
How did it make you feel to host CoP11 to CBD, the leading global gathering of policy-makers and stakeholders in the planet’s Biodiversity?
It was a unique, out of this world experience! It was the first time such a big event had been hosted in a provincial city in India. Despite a few challenges we had a very successful event, which received rave reviews from the whole world, as well as from participants, including ministers, thanking and congratulating us on the successful hosting of the conference. On the logistics side and also on the content part we had a very successful conference. Things failed at a lot of previous CoP meetings, but we reached a very good decision where countries agreed to double their spend on biodiversity conservation. So it is not only the city and the side events but the main content which ensured the success.
Why is it important to promote environmental responsibility in India?
India is a developing country and we have an opportunity today not to develop as the industrialised countries did in the past. They claim being not aware of the negative effects of industrialisation on the environment, which would lead to Global Warming & Climate Change. Today India has an opportunity to take a course towards lower CO2 emissions and be more environmentally-friendly. This is a challenge for this heavily populated and diverse country which houses almost 1/5th of the global population. In our way we are addressing environmental issues as they are coming. We are looking for the best solution and are facilitating finance for the same, for both projects and technology. We are committed to grow in an environmentally-friendly manner.
How would you describe the maturity of India in terms of sustainability today?
Sustainability for India has three pillars – Economic, Social and Ecological, and the challenge ahead of us is to balance these three pillars equally and at the same time.
What resounding commitments did participating countries make following the event?
One of the big commitments was when parties agreed to double their spending on conserving biological diversity. CoP11 to CBD took 33 decisions and saw the Hyderabad Pledge which the Prime Minister of India made for US$50 million, this all is going towards biodiversity conservation-related projects and institutions. The Executive Secretary of CBD said that it is by far the best contribution towards the process and to meet this challenge a huge effort will be needed. India is doing its best to persuade all the parties to ratify the Nagoya Protocol, which is the key to the success of the CBD process and we are hopeful that the desired number of ratifications will be there by next the CoP in South Korea.
What are the key sustainability issues and risks when planning such an event? How did you identify specific challenges for India?
The key is maximum output with minimum use of non-renewable resources. That was the focus while planning and we had put the systems in place. MCI India – our chosen PCO (Professional Congress Organiser) - made it a point that even on their side they would be using the sustainability parameters across all their activities. I was really glad to see the Sustainability Report of the conference developed by MCI and it gave us huge confidence that in such a conference a PCO can contribute to such levels and practise sustainability in their planning and operations as well.
Can you share some of the specific sustainability objectives set to lessen the environmental impact and widen the positive societal impact of the event?
Sustainability was incorporated as part of the planning stage and we took the services of the PCO in assisting us with meeting sustainability objectives. MCI India ensured the measurement of all the positive impact and also ascertain the environmental impact from the conference. The overall sustainability objectives included: to benchmark the sustainability performance of the event, divert 80% of the waste away from landfills (recycling and reusing), use 90% local catering (from India) at the venue, offset water and event carbon emissions, raise awareness and educate participants, and engage community, youth and tribal groups in the event. These objectives were addressed through all phases of planning with the constant involvement of the PCO and other stakeholders. A crucial role was played by MCI India to ensure that all the objectives were met and the work was showcased to a global audience.
What strategic approach have you taken to ensure sustainability concerns were addressed throughout the event?
To address sustainability concerns careful and strategic planning was done, firstly to identify the most suitable sustainability partner, which was done by selecting the right PCO. Further the PCO took the initiative to have supplier engagement to ensure sustainability at their end. This was done through awareness sessions and a series of interviews and by engaging a professional waste management company to meet the objectives. They were able to achieve an excellent rate of 91% diversion from landfills against the objective of 80%. Another approach was through sustainable procurement. We made this a conscious decision in purchasing materials and services for the conference, such as conference bags, stage setup, exhibition construction, USB sticks, printing, catering, communication etc. A lot of focus was also put towards involvement of youth and indigenous communities in the conference. Youth involvement was enhanced through a series of contests at a national level; the Science Express train with a focus on biodiversity travelled across India spreading awareness about biodiversity conservation; indigenous communities were involved at the conference through participation at side events and at Biodiversity Haat, an exhibition showcasing the highly successful and sustainable traditional and local handicraft industry across India, where they showcased the perfect example of access and benefit-sharing through the sale of natural products developed as part of their livelihood and educating the delegates about the process behind the development of these products.
What tools did you use to evaluate the performance of the event?
The performance of the event was evaluated against many parameters. First the organising of the conference – logistics, which was done up to the expectations of CBD and international participants. The arrangements, along with the best of hospitality and warmth that Hyderabad and India gave to the delegates, made it a truly enriching experience for all the delegates. Other evaluation criteria looked at the content and the agenda of the conference. On these fronts the performance was impeccable with many decisions taken and the Hyderabad Pledge made, as outlined already. The performance of MCI India as the PCO and the conference venue were also exceptional, as they not only delivered beyond expectations, but also added to the conference with their innovative ideas and contribution towards ensuring sustainability.
How did the event compare to other sustainably-managed conferences in India and the region?
CoP11 to CBD was one of the first sustainably-managed conferences of this scale, where 170+ country delegates participated; it was unique with so many languages, cultural mingling, food etc., to put together. Not even a single untoward incident speaks volumes about the efficient planning and work put towards the success of the conference.
What was the reason for having a sustainability partner in the planning and organisation of the event?
How did they deliver value? It was crucial. We had to look for a partner which not only had the experience in handling large-scale conferences globally but could also facilitate high levels of sustainability for the conference. MCI met all these requirements, they had a highly experienced sustainability management team and the expertise was absolutely visible throughout the event from waste management and selection of service providers to sustainable practices across the hotels and venues. This was particularly evident in the Sustainability Report they developed at the end of the conference which showcased the efforts and results in the best possible way, not only giving a huge boost to the green quotient of the conference, but also showcasing India as a destination for sustainable events in the future.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
A few hiccups which happened could have been avoided. The rains that came in the first week of the conference were a challenge. We thought they would not happen, despite the forecasts, but we did not take them into consideration and they threw us a big challenge to reassess the logistics with heavy rains accompanied with winds. Another challenge was with law and order, but we had planned for that and thus it did not affect us. HICC was the only world-class convention venue available to us, but it was not adequate, meeting only 80% of our requirements, but we knew this. This gave us a few challenges, as we had to get temporary structures put up outside while battling the rains.
Is building knowledge in this space a key priority for the Indian government at this stage?
Can you describe the main opportunities and/or challenges the Indian government is facing in 2013; and has CoP11 helped in any of those efforts?
CoP11 gave India an opportunity to showcase its strengths. In fact a lot of things that are being done by India on the front are not known to the outside world and as you know that seeing is believing so people who came here saw the work through side events, exhibits, country visits and so on. They could see that ¼ of India’s population earns their livelihood directly from biodiversity, so showcasing of India on the biodiversity front was a huge take-home for the delegates. And the conference also gave us the opportunity to know
the best practices across the world and we learned a lot and also putting into practice those lessons.
How do you plan to keep the legacy of the event alive in India?What are your top priorities?
One legacy is through the logo that we had for the conference; it was quite apt and attuned to this kind of conference with the message – “Nature Protects if She is Protected”. That will take the legacy forward and remind us of CoP11. Then we had also built a pylon in the city, which makes Hyderabad the first city to commemorate an event like this for posterity and we are also using this opportunity to have a Biodiversity Museum at that particular place which will be a unique intervention, and will take forward what we have learned for future generations.
Any message for people and international associations looking towards India for their conferences?
India has many strengths, and the first one is that we are great hosts. Hospitality is in our blood. We have many capable professional conference organisers, such as MCI India, and one of the best providers of infrastructure. The landscape of the country also makes it a unique destination. In a single country there are 10 bio-geographical zones, there are mountains, rivers, sea coast, lagoons, islands, mangroves, deserts etc. Within a radius of a few kilometres one can see a wide range of biodiversity. We also have world-class cities with infrastructure to host large international conferences. One of the biggest advantages is an English-speaking population, one can travel to any part of India and there is a large proportion of the population speaking English for the comfort of international delegates. India has a world-class cuisine, offering not only the specialities of India, but also global cuisines everywhere. The variety of food you can get in India is unimaginable. India can host events at any time of the year and the whole world is welcome to come to India. From the UN to international organisations, we have shown this to the world with CoP11 at Hyderabad.