Tensions high at UN biodiversity talks

October 29, 2010 12:00 am

, NAGOYA, Oct 29 – UN talks on an ambitious pact to protect the world\’s ecosystems hinged on Friday on last-ditch efforts by rich and poor nations to broker a deal over resources derived from places such as the Amazon.

The meeting in the central Japanese city of Nagoya is meant to produce a roadmap of 20 key goals to be achieved over the next decade to contain man\’s destruction of nature and save the world\’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity.

Delegates from more than 190 countries have agreed to most of those goals. But a dispute over "fairly sharing" genetic resources – taken mostly from developing countries such as Brazil – has yet to be resolved.

Hopes were high on Thursday that the contentious issue had been resolved, but talks broke down in the evening and negotiators were forced into another round of meetings on Friday – the final day of the 12-day summit.

"Yesterday\’s optimism proved misplaced in Nagoya. No predicting what will happen now but still hope for an agreement on biodiversity," European environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said in a message posted on Twitter.

In a bid to break the stalemate, host nation Japan released Friday a draft text on the proposed "Access and Benefits Sharing Protocol" for genetic resources.

Environment ministers were set to discuss the draft text in a bid to find a consensus.

The issue is crucial because Brazil, home to much of the Amazon basin, a global treasure trove of genetic resources, has said it will not agree to the 20-point strategic plan unless there is also a deal on the protocol.

Brazil and other developing countries argue rich nations and companies should not be allowed to freely take genetic resources such as wild plants to make medicines, cosmetics and other products for huge profits.

The planned protocol would ban so-called "biopiracy" and outline how countries with genetic resources would share in the benefits of the assets\’ commercial development by pharmaceutical and other companies.

Delegates have said the dispute over genetic resources had held up negotiations on the proposed 20-point plan to protect ecosystems.

That plan would commit countries to curbing pollution, setting aside areas of land and water for conservation, protecting coral reefs and ending so-called "perverse subsidies" for environmentally destructive industries.

If the Nagoya summit ends with no meaningful commitment, it would leave the United Nations open to more criticism about its ability to solve the planet\’s most pressing environmental problems.

A UN summit in Copenhagen last year was heavily criticised after world leaders failed to broker a binding deal to combat global warming.

"After Copenhagen, failure in Nagoya is not an option," French secretary of state for the environment Chantal Jouanno told the Nagoya meeting on Thursday.

"Failure would mark a long and painful step backwards for environmental issues on the political agenda."

UN chiefs have told the meeting that forging a global consensus on protecting nature in Nagoya is vital to stop the mass extinction of animals and plant species that humans depend on to survive.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warned last year the world faced its sixth mass extinction phase, the last being 65 million years ago when dinosaurs vanished.

Nearly a quarter of mammals, one-third of amphibians and more than a fifth of plant species now face the threat of extinction, according to the IUCN.

And with the world\’s human population expected to rise from 6.8 billion to nine billion by 2050, the UN, scientists and environment groups say humans must become better guardians of the environment or face catastrophe.


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