Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nature Scores Points at U.N. Biodiversity Talks

(Posted by : Nancy Roberts at , 1st November, 2010)

The little noticed United Nations Conference on Biodiversity ended last week in Nagoya with agreement on some important goals for preserving the world's ecosystems and species, countering biopiracy, and limiting large-scale efforts to manipulate the earth's systems to combat climate change. Now comes the hard part: real progress.

New targets for the preservation and protection of nature were set, even though many of the previous plan's goals were not met. Last minute bargaining led to an agreement on the Aichi Targets, which call for all participating countries to create national biodiversity plans. The Targets call for 17% of all inland water and terrestrial zones to be protected by 2020; marine protected zones were expanded to include about 10 percent of the world's oceans, up from about one percent now. The difficulty lies in reaching these goals, as there is no enforcement mechanism and the costs for preservation and protection are high, particularly for developing countries. Delegates agreed to set up a fund by 2012 to help developing nations defray the costs of increasing protected areas. Other targets call for sustainable fisheries management, elimination of subsidies that harm biodiversity, and preventing deforestation and the extinction of known species.

Thwarting Biopiracy
In a rare advance for the rights of indigenous peoples, the Nagoya Protocol requires governments to consider how to compensate for genetic material and traditional medical knowledge. This highly contentious agreement came as indigenous peoples and developing countries protested that they are inadequately compensated when their natural resources are developed into drugs by pharmaceutical companies. The protocol still needs to be ratified and would not come into effect until 2020 (language making the protocol retroactive was removed in negotiations), giving big pharma several more years of unfettered exploitation. This video explains Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) and the issue of biopiracy:

[In a related potential victory for the rights of nature: this past week the U.S. government reversed longstanding policy and stated that naturally occurring genes should not be patentable. If enforced, this stance could have enormous effects on the biotech industry.]

Blocking Geoengineering
Little attention was paid to another element of the Nagoya agreement: a moratorium on geoengineering to combat climate change. Geoengineering is the effort to mitigate climate change through large-scale, human-initiated efforts to manipulate the Earth's systems. Examples include dumping chemicals or causing algal blooms in the ocean to change its properties, or placing mirrors in the atmosphere to affect the amount of heat reaching the surface. Opponents of geoengineering "solutions" fear that the massive efforts would irreparably harm the earth's complex systems in unpredictable ways and/or backfire irreparably.

U.S. Not A Signatory
While the new goals and policies set at Nagoya are admirable and we can only hope they are reached, it should be noted that he U.S. is not a signatory to the 1992 U.N. Convention for Biodiversity and is not bound by the current agreement. (The other two non-signers are Andorra and the Holy See.) The U.S.'s status as a non-signatory perpetuates damages our credibility in international negotiations on these and other environmental measures. Sadly, the fate of the earth's systems has come off the front page in the face of strident mid-term electioneering and global economic issues. Let's work to keep the preservation of the earth's plants, animals (and ultimately, humans) on the top of our priority lists.

Take Action
Public pressure is needed to keep global leaders focused on the environment. Start with considering the environment when you vote; see the Care2 post on environmental voters here. (Link:

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