The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Stemming Mass Wildlife Extinctions Must Drive International Biodiversity Treaty

As Global Leaders Gather in South Korea, World’s Wildlife Continues Steep Decline


As diplomats and citizens from all over the world continue gathering at the 12th Conference of the Parties for the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity this week, they face the sobering reality that wild plant and animal species throughout the planet -- indeed in every country -- continue to vanish at rates not seen since the dinosaur die-off 65 million years ago. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat itself, in the recent report Global Biodiversity Outlook 4, "Extrapolations for a range of indicators suggest that based on current trends, pressures on biodiversity will continue to increase at least until 2020, and that the status of biodiversity will continue to decline."

"The Convention on Biological Diversity was not negotiated merely to document the catastrophic loss of wildlife and habitat," said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, an observer at the first conference of the parties in 1994, and an attendee at this conference in South Korea. "The point of the treaty is in fact to stop and prevent the further destruction of natural ecosystems, which will be impossible without directly confronting the industrial interests responsible for biodiversity's steep decline over the past decades."

This meeting follows a report from Britain's WWF finding that the planet has lost half its wild animals since 1970, with the fastest declines in freshwater ecosystems. The key causes of the declines include habitat loss and destruction, exploitation and climate change. "Strong laws like the Endangered Species Act are critical to stemming losses and putting species on the path toward recovery," Snape said. "The Act is working, but it's clear that, at a national and international level, we have to move faster and more boldly to keep the world's rich biodiversity from slipping through our fingers."

The convention's burgeoning, and at times unwieldy, agenda at the South Korea meeting is meant to address some of the most important areas of saving wildlife around the globe, including resource mobilization, funding, biodiversity and sustainable development, mainstreaming gender considerations, access and benefit sharing, indigenous and local communities, traditional knowledge of biodiversity, liability and redress, marine and coastal biodiversity, invasive alien species, plant conservation, climate change, ecosystem conservation and restoration, bushmeat and wildlife management reform, biofuels, cooperation with other conventions, improving the efficiency of structures and processes, among others. "All of these issues are important," said Snape, "but more focus would help achieve better results."

Of particular note is that one of the convention's protocols, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, came into force this week as more than 50 nations have now ratified it. The protocol is aimed at conditioning access to the genetic resources of biological diversity, mostly in the developing world, upon the sharing of resources and technology by those who profit from the genetic resources -- mostly developed countries such as the United States, with its highly profitable biotech industry.

"While the Nagoya Protocol is unquestionably a positive step for poorer countries seeking to protect their native flora and fauna, it will be irrelevant if no binding commitments are made to protect the thousands and thousands of imperiled species in the first place," said Snape. "It's particularly frustrating that the United States, which is home to such fantastic wildlife and habitat, can't muster any Republican votes in the Senate to ratify this treaty. Besides the Vatican and Andorra, we're the only nation state left not to do so. Without U.S. participation and engagement, which all countries want, the rest of the world suffers."

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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