Saturday, October 30, 2010

A New Biodiversity Treaty

U.N. members finally agreed on a new treaty for conserving biodiversity.
The agreement, known as the Nagoya Protocol, sets a goal of cutting the current extinction rate by half or more by 2020. The earth is losing species at 100 to 1,000 times the historical average, according to scientists who call the current period the worst since the dinosaurs were lost 65 million years ago.

The new targets include increasing the amount of protected land to 17 percent, from the current figure of about 12.5 percent, and protected oceans to 10 percent, from less than 1 percent. The protocol also includes commitments of financing, still somewhat murky, from richer countries to help poorer nations reach these goals.

“We would have liked to see more ambitious targets in protected area goals and the financing,” said Glenn Prickett, the chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy. “But the fact that they were able to reach an agreement is a big deal.”

The goals, 20 in total, are specific enough to be able to gauge whether progress is being made, he said. A previous and vague agreement in 2002 to substantially reverse the loss of species by 2010 failed to achieve that target.

The most significant change was breaking a nearly 20-year impasse over the issue of sharing the benefits of medicines or other products developed from plants or animals. Developing nations have long complained of exploitation by richer nations, and have been imposing stringent export controls on such material.
Whether this will be more successful than the previous protocol remains to be seen. Since the U.S. still has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, it seems unlikely to ratify this protocol either, especially with the likely changes in Senate composition. Without U.S. support, it is hard to see this protocol meeting its goals, however well structured it may be. Still, even without meeting its concrete goals, it may serve a useful aspirational purpose.

This BBC article has a nice slideshow on biodiversity issues.