UN Seals Historic Treaty to Protect Ecosystems

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Agence France-Presse

UN Seals Historic Treaty to Protect Ecosystems

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An area of Sumatran forest cleared by a logging company. One of the most significant elements of the accord was a commitment to protect 17 percent of land and 10 percent of oceans so that biodiversity there could thrive. Greenpeace expressed disappointment at the new targets, which delegates said were lowered on the insistence of China and some other developing countries. (AFP)

NAGOYA, Japan – A historic global treaty to protect the
world's forests, coral reefs and other threatened ecosystems within 10
years was sealed at a UN summit on Saturday.

Rich and poor nations agreed to take "effective and urgent" action
to curb the destruction of nature in an effort to halt the loss of the
world's biodiversity on which human survival depends.

Delegates from 193 countries committed to key goals such as curbing
pollution, protecting forests and coral reefs, setting aside areas of
land and water for conservation, and managing fisheries sustainably.

"This is a day to celebrate," UN Environment Programme chief Achim
Steiner said straight after the accord was struck early on Saturday
morning following nearly two weeks of tense talks in the central
Japanese city of Nagoya.

Hosts Japan hailed the agreement, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara
saying: "From now on, our country will contribute to the protection of
biodiversity and positively support developing countries' efforts to
implement the Nagoya protocol, with technologies and knowledge our
country has."

Delegates and green groups also said the accord offered hope that
the United Nations could help to solve the planet's many environmental
problems, particularly after the failure of climate change talks in
Copenhagen last year.

One of the most significant elements of the accord was a commitment
to protect 17 percent of land and 10 percent of oceans so that
biodiversity there could thrive.

Currently only 13 percent of land and one percent of oceans are protected.

Nevertheless, Greenpeace expressed disappointment at the new
targets, which delegates said were lowered on the insistence of China
and some other developing countries.

There were other limitations to the Nagoya pact -- including that
the United States was not a signatory as it is one of the few countries
not to have ratified the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

But while some green groups said the 20-point plan was not as
ambitious as hoped, most still welcomed it as a historic step towards
united global action in tackling biodiversity problems and raising
awareness about the issue.

"Governments have sent a strong message that protecting the health
of the planet has a place in international politics and countries are
ready to join forces to save life on Earth," WWF International director
general Jim Leape said.

Greenpeace International stood out among the major environment groups with a critical stance.

Greenpeace had been pushing for 20 percent of oceans to be
conserved, as a step towards an eventual target of 40-percent
preservation.

"Alarm bells have been ringing for decades, and developed nations
have been hitting the snooze button by delaying both action on and
funding for environmental protection," Greenpeace said in a statement.

The accord was clinched after a last-minute breakthrough on an
18-year stand-off over "fairly" sharing the benefits and knowledge of
genetic resource riches that are found mostly in developing countries.

Brazil, home to much of the Amazon basin and its global treasure
trove of resources, had insisted throughout the summit that it would not
agree to the 20-point strategic plan unless there was also a deal on
genetic riches.

Brazil and other developing countries argued powerful 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. Facts on UN treaty

They had been battling developed countries -- where most of the drug
and other companies that enjoy the benefits of genetic resources are
based -- over the issue since the CBD was formed at the Rio de Janeiro
Earth Summit in 1992.

The European Union led developed nations in finally agreeing to the
so-called Access and Benefits Sharing Protocol to ensure success on the
20-point strategic plan.

The legally binding protocol will ensure countries with genetic
resources enjoy some of the profits of the assets' commercial
development.

However many details of the protocol, such as how much this may cost
pharmaceutical companies and developed nations, were left for later
negotiations.

UN chiefs told the opening of the summit that forging a global
consensus on protecting nature was vital to stop the mass extinction of
animals and plant species.

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 International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Pressure will only grow with the world's human population expected to rise from 6.8 billion to nine billion by 2050.

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