Posted on behalf of Anjali Nayar
In the final hours of this year’s international talks on biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, negotiators were still trying to hammer out details on how much of the globe should be protected, and how to compensate nations for commercial products based on their genetic resources.
“It’s going to be a while still,” said Lina Barrera, who heads Conservation International’s Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Policy.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and outlines three main goals for biodiversity: its conservation, its sustainable use, and fair sharing of the benefits of its genetic resources.
The first two goals, namely the conservation of biodiversity and promotion of sustainable development, have made progress over the last 18 years. But the third point, about whether developing countries should benefit from the commercial development of their genetic resources, known as Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS), has been a sticking point in negotiations.
While nations generally agree that countries (and communities) should get compensation for the use of genetic resources within their borders, nations have disagreed about what a legal protocol should include, how tough the certification process should be, as well as whether compensation should be retroactive.
Developing countries, home to most of the hotspots of biodiversity, want higher payouts and more stringent controls over the use of their resources. On the other hand, developed countries worry that this will limit researchers’ access, as well as undervalue the work that goes into making natural resources into valuable commodities such as cosmetics and medications.
Eight years after negotiations on the issue began, it was anticipated that this meeting in Nagoya might provide a needed breakthrough in the debate. “I think everyone coming into the meeting thought we were going to put this issue to rest,” said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International. “[This issue] has been the devil in the corner for a long time.”
But the last couple of weeks proved that major rifts still exist between the camps. The discussions all but fell apart in the wee hours of Friday morning, when no agreement could be achieved on whether the derivatives of genetic resources should be included in the protocol, said Sonia Peña Moreno, a biodiversity policy officer at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
“Since there [was] no agreement on the fundamental issue of utilization and derivatives, then it was clear that it was the end of the negotiations on ABS at least at this COP,” said Moreno.
“We need a protocol and we want a protocol but we need a good legal framework,” adds Brazil’s Minister of Environment, Izabella Teixeira.
On Friday afternoon, however, the news coming from the closed-door sessions was positive. Ministers from the various nations said they were making ground. “We are hearing there is consensus,” said Leape, “though we haven’t seen the text yet.”
There have been other gains for biodiversity during the week. The protection of terrestrial environments may rise from current levels of around 13% to 17-20% of the Earth’s surface. Newly included in these figures will be freshwater environments. The protection of marine ecosystems will also likely rise from a current average of around 1% to between 6-10%. Final decisions will be made throughout the night and possibly into the weekend.
Frank Wugt Larsen, a conservation scientist at Conservation International says he is slightly disappointed by the levels. He has been pushing nations to protect 25% of terrestrial environments and 20% of marine environments, because biodiversity is still in rapid decline. “We haven’t protected enough, we haven’t protected the right areas,” he said.
Despite a major funding boost from Japan, there were few other significant funding pledges made for the cause of biodiversity during the two-week conference. As a result, some organizations fear that despite increased targets for protected areas, countries may not be able to realize them.
The next round of biodiversity talks will take place in New Delhi, India in 2012. The meetings will mark the twentieth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit and the Convention on Biological Diversity.