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WECF President Christine von Weizsaecker interviewed for Japan Times

"Biodiversity parley finding goals elusive" - Grand accord means naught if nations balk

19.10.2010 | By ERIC JOHNSTON, The Japan Times

NAGOYA — The Monday start of the COP10 conference was marked by strong differences over how to ensure fair access to genetic resources and how to demarcate terrestrial and marine areas for protection under a new environmental protocol.
The two-week 10th conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, involving delegates from more than 190 countries, is expected to adopt new, internationally binding rules for access to biological resources, in particular plants and other organisms, and the knowledge associated with them, that form the basis of modern medicine and other products.

In addition, the conference is expected to establish specific targets for conserving land and marine areas threatened by biodiversity loss.

Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto opened COP10 by saying the goal established by the convention in 2002 to significantly reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 has not been met, as evidenced by species losses occurring at more than 1,000 times their natural rate of extinction.

He warned delegates that the planet was now close to the point of no return in terms of reversing biodiversity loss. "We must create a future of the planet based on living in harmony with nature, and we're in Nagoya to create such a future. It's important to agree on an international regime on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, to develop medical products, and to connect these benefits to conservation of biodiversity," Matsumoto said.

At the heart of the debate over a new access and benefit-sharing agreement are several issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples, especially the question of how much compensation they should receive by international corporations that use both their resources and associated knowledge for commercial drugs and biotech products when they are patented.

Another issue awaiting hot debate is the historical compensation to such peoples for resources on their lands that have already been turned into patented products, and for the biodiversity lost in this pursuit, as well as how they might be included in future arrangements.

"Issues that remain contentious include the scope of the new protocol, and whether or not it will cover future developments in genetic research. The new agreement must also be such that only legally acquired genetic resources and traditional knowledge can be used and marketed, for example, through a system of customs checkpoints," said Christine von Weizsacker, spokeswoman for CBD Alliance, an umbrella organization of international nongovernmental organizations attending the conference.

CBD officials remain hopeful the protocol will be finalized by the time COP10 ends Oct. 29. Nearly 120 senior ministers and a number of heads of state are expected to be in Nagoya to conclude the agreement. As for preservation targets over the coming decade, countries have indicated they will support different conservation goals.

The current text being debated includes a target to set aside either 15 or 20 percent of the world's land areas and inland waterways, and an unspecified percentage of coastal and marine areas for protection.

Asked how COP10 could reach a significant agreement on these numbers, Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of CBD, said the real issue was what delegates will do with the strategic plan for post-2010 biodiversity protection goals in their own countries after the conference ends.

"I don't think the issue is numbers. The issue is ownership. Ownership by the governments, civil society and by the private sector. The parties will be requested to translate this strategic plan (to be adopted at COP10) into national plans. The targets are not implemented at the COP. They are implemented at the national level," he said.

The Japan Times: Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
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