UN biodiversity conference ends with package to protect wildlife

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BONN, Germany (AFP) – UN talks on Friday yielded a package of measures aimed at staving off what scientists fear is a mass extinction of Earth’s species and blocking irreparable damage to the ecosystems on which human life depends.

After a 12-day conference, 191 nations attending the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to set up the first-ever deep-sea nature preserve and expand reserves on land to an area that, if combined, would be nearly twice the size of Germany.

In another first, a long-stymied effort to compensate developing nations for “genetic resources” extracted to make drugs and cosmetics also gained traction.

German Environment minister Sigmar Gabriel hailed progress on this so-called access and benefits-sharing regime as a “real success.”

Other measures passed included a de-facto ban on sowing oceans with chemicals, an experimental process championed by some nations — notably Australia — as a potential carbon-reducing solution to global warming.

And the conference also took the first steps toward setting global standards for developing biofuels, a renewable energy that has been accused of accelerating deforestation and widening hunger as farmers swap food crops for fuel crops.

Green groups were critical, though. They slammed the outcome as badly failing the UN Millennium Development Goal which sets 2010 as the deadline to “substantially reduce” biodiversity loss.

The bloc of 77 developing countries and China approved the consensus package but issued a warning.

A major reduction of biodiversity loss by 2010 “is unlikely at the current rates,” they said. “Let history not say about our age that we were rich in resources but poor in will.”

They also called for benefit-sharing from genetic resources to be given legal teeth. This was an issue that divided the industrialised north and the developing south.

Gabriel acknowledged that Bonn meeting “achieved less than we should have, given the dimension of the problems.”

But, he argued, “achieving unanimity among 191 states is difficult.”

The conference agreed on criteria for marine protected areas in the high seas and deep-sea habitats.

On land, tens of millions of hectares (acres) are to be earmarked for nature preserves, under initiatives unveiled Indonesia, Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia.

Another hotly contested issue — how to describe the link between climate change and biodiversity — ended with a vague statement which said efforts to reduce and adapt to global warming should avoid potentially negative impacts on biodiversity.

Scientists say that species are becoming extinct at a dizzying rate — between 100 and 1,000 times the natural pace of extinction.

One in four mammals, one bird in eight, one third of all amphibians and 70 percent of plants are under threat.

The Biodiversity Convention is an offspring of the 1992 Earth Summit, but it has long played the frustrating role of junior partner to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Rio’s other landmark treaty.

The Bonn meeting was framed as an attempt to catapult Earth’s other environmental crisis to greater prominence.

In attempt to show the dollar value of natural resources, development economist Pavan Sukhdev estimated that the lost benefits of biodiversity and ecosystems cost as much as 3.1 trillion dollars a year, or six percent of the planet’s gross national product.

Another initiative at the conference was to set up an independent panel of scientists to deliver regular assessments on the state biodiversity, modelled on the lines of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged 500 million euros (785 million dollars) in funding for biodiversity work before 2013, and an equal amount annually thereafter. But other major economies are yet to follow suit.

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