September 28, 2010 / 9:13 AM / 7 years ago

EU-poor rift could derail conservation talks: group

4 Min Read

<p>A view of Cahora Bassa dam in Tete province, Mozambique, September 22, 2010. RETUERS/Goran Tomasevic</p>

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Tension between the European Union and poor countries could undermine U.N. talks on agreeing 2020 targets to preserve nature's riches that provide clean air, water and medicine, a top conservation official said.

The October 18-29 talks in the Japanese city of Nagoya also aim to seal a treaty that outlines rules for access to genetic resources and discoveries, potentially a big source of cash for poor nations when dealing with drug and agricultural firms.

"This is going to go to the wall in terms of brinkmanship," said Jane Smart, director, biodiversity conservation group, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Agreement on the genetic resources pact, called the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) protocol, was key, Smart told Reuters by telephone from Switzerland, because of the potential flow of money it could bring to corporations and poorer countries.

A draft strategic plan for 2020, set to be formally adopted at the Nagoya talks, calls for "effective and urgent action" either "to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020" or "toward halting the loss of biodiversity" with no deadline.

It sets out 20 targets to help prevent a biological crisis that scientists say could imperil economies and mankind.

Studies show many of the world's ecosystems are facing increasing extinctions because of pollution, climate change, forest clearing and hunting.

The United Nations says its crucial to set new targets to curb the losses. Businesses and governments must also integrate the estimated multi-trillion dollar services provided by coral reefs that are key fishing grounds, forests that provide clean air and river water and mangroves that protect coastlines.

"What is contentious is that if no ABS protocol is agreed then countries might not adopt a strategic plan and that is a real and genuine worry," said Smart.

Tension

"Some of the tension is between the developing countries and the EU," she said. "The EU has taken as their target to halt biodiversity loss by 2020," she added, a target many including the IUCN say is out of reach. The IUCN groups governments, scientists and environmentalists.

"Developing countries say that if you want to halt biodiversity loss, you will have to put a lot more cash in."

Current funding to safeguard biodiversity is about $3 billion a year but developing nations say this should be increased 100-fold.

"We need a new green-based economy. If governments all started using green procurement policies we could generate money to implement the strategic plan," Smart said. Redirecting more than $500 billion in fossil fuel subsidies was another source.

The United Nations says the world has failed to reach a goal, set in 2002, of a "significant reduction" in biodiversity losses by 2010 as agreed under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The IUCN says species extinction rates are now up to 1,000 times greater than the average rates before mankind appeared and are increasing.

Smart said businesses and governments needed to integrate the value of the environment into decision-making.

"We've got to the point the (Convention on Biological Diversity) needs to go way beyond environment ministries. It needs to be looked at by finance and agriculture ministries, you name it. Everybody has got to be involved."

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