| NAGOYA, Japan
NAGOYA, Japan Delegates at a global U.N. meeting to preserve natural resources moved closer on Tuesday to agreeing ways to set aside about $4 billion to help developing nations save tropical forests, as studies highlighted the plight of nature.
The talks in the Japanese city of Nagoya are aimed at setting new 2020 targets to protect plant and animal species, a protocol to share genetic resources between countries and companies and more funding to protect nature, especially forests.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates global deforestation fell from 16 million hectares (40 million acres) per year in the 1990s to 13 million hectares per year in the past decade, with the bulk of the losses in tropical countries.
Forests soak up large amounts of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, and help curb the pace of climate change. They are also key water catchments, help clean the air and are home to countless species.
"Our forests need immediate action," Brazil's Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, told the meeting.
Ministers focused on a voluntary partnership covering nearly 70 nations to boost a U.N.-backed scheme that seeks to reward developing countries that preserve and restore forests.
Called REDD-plus, or reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, the scheme has attracted funding pledges from rich nations because of its potential to fight climate change. It could also underpin a global market in carbon credits, in which poorer nations could earn large sums by saving their forests.
But the partnership has had a troubled start, with bickering over management of the cash and procedural issues.
"The main task for this meeting was to re-establish the partnership, which was close to failure. I think that was accomplished here," Gerald Steindlegger, policy director of WWF International's Forest Carbon Initiative, told Reuters.
Ministers agreed at the end of the one-day REDD talks on Tuesday to complete a 2011-12 work plan during U.N. climate talks in Mexico that start next month. The plan would cover funding pilot projects, managing the cash and helping nations build up institutions.
The talks in Nagoya ramp up on Wednesday, when more than 100 ministers discuss 2020 targets and financing. Also under discussion is a global pact that would allow poorer nations to share their genetic resources -- plants, animals and microbes -- between governments and companies with the potential to generate billions of dollars in benefits.
Negotiations on the genetic resources pact have taken years and the United Nations says Nagoya needs to agree tougher targets to save forests, reefs, rivers and wetlands that underpin livelihoods and economies. More funding was also crucial.
"We are at a very pivotal time. We are losing biodiversity on the planet at an alarming rate that cannot go on or our children and our grandchildren will be that much poorer," Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, told Reuters in an interview.
Actor Harrison Ford waded into the debate, urging the public to protect nature and for the United States to ratify the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity.
"We have to create a kind of undeniable groundswell of public opinion, a kind of movement-level effect, something like the Civil Rights Movement or the Women's Rights Movement, to advocate for the kind of work that needs to be done to protect the environment," he said in an interview.
A WWF International report showed that between 1999-2009, about 1,200 new species of plants, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals were discovered in the Amazon, but were under threat from deforestation and climate change.
Findings included a blind red fish, a coin-sized black frog with pink rings on its body and a blue-fanged tarantula.
"We are really dealing with an issue of tremendous risk to humanity and security," said Yolanda Kakabadse, president of WWF International.
(Editing by Ron Popeski)