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Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

Ainu have biodiversity bone to pick with host Japan

Concept of two separate ethnic groups in country 'frightening concept' for government

Staff writer

NAGOYA — Given its historical treatment of the Ainu and the widespread belief that the nation has but one race, can Japan as host of COP10 effectively deal with indigenous rights, which are at the heart of the most contentious issue of the conference?

No, say Ainu representatives who have issued their own calls on Japan to respect their biodiversity rights and return lands that are considered their traditional home, and to ensure the genetic integrity of plants and animals long part of their cultural heritage.

"Japan is not incorporating the concerns of indigenous peoples into the negotiations at COP10, which include negotiations on the rights of indigenous peoples' lands and traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity," said Koji Yuki, an Ainu representative of the World Indigenous Peoples Network. "Japan is not very sensitive about such issues because the idea of two separate ethnic groups in Japan itself is a frightening concept for the Japanese government."

Issues over access to lands long settled by indigenous people, and use of their traditional knowledge by corporations in developed countries that turn their genetic resources into patented drugs and biotech products, but return none of the profits to the indigenous peoples, is a major reason why the Convention on Biological Diversity has yet to conclude an international binding protocol on access and benefit-sharing despite nearly 18 years of negotiations.

COP10, which concludes Oct. 29, is finally supposed to conclude those negotiations.

But nongovernmental organizations representing indigenous peoples have already complained in Nagoya that Japan, as host, is ignoring their concerns in a rush to reach an accord that lacks specific steps to protect their biodiversity-related rights as recognized under various international conventions and agreements.

In the case of the Ainu, Yuki and other Ainu representatives in Nagoya are calling on the government to end further degradation of Hokkaido's biodiversity by ensuring the migration of salmon into the mountains is maintained, and their rights to fish for whales, killer whales, dolphins, swordfish and salmon are restored.

"The Ainu only take what they need. They have never had to resort to artificial breeding" as is the case with salmon farms, Yuki said.

In addition, the Ainu are demanding that their rights to hunt freely and manage their forests be recognized, and that public lands, especially in Hokkaido, including national or prefectural forests and parks, World Heritage sites and areas reserved for the Self-Defense Forces, be returned and placed under Ainu protection.

Yuki added that when it comes to supporting arguments involving biodiversity and a people's rights to diverse resources based on traditional culture, the government is being hypocritical in particular over the issue of hunting whales.

"Japan tells the international community it has the right to hunt whales because of its historical traditions. Yet it won't allow the Ainu to follow their own historical tradition of hunting whales," he said.

Body of experts

Staff report

NAGOYA — A new international body of experts will likely be set up within the next couple of years to provide coordinated policy advice to government officials on biodiversity and ecosystem changes, delegates to the COP10 conference said during a side event Thursday afternoon.

But questions remain as to how scientists across a wide range of disciplines will be able to fulfill the group's mandate, which is to provide coordinated policy advice in a timely manner to governments and international bodies like the United Nations.

The new organization is to be called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Anne Larigauderie, a scientist involved with its formation, said its ultimate goal is to build an international community of biodiversity experts, modeled after the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"In order to succeed, the IPBES must be independent, must have credibility and must have a transparent peer review process," she said.

IPBES will be responsible for serving as an information clearinghouse on biodiversity knowledge, performing regular assessments of biodiversity and ecosystems, and supporting policy suggestions to governments and international agencies.

Some who attended in Thursday's events expressed concern over how the new group will operate, and worried about the kinds of communication problems that plagued the IPCC late last year, when leaked e-mails from IPCC members were interpreted by climate change deniers as an indication the group was not objective.

Others wondered how a body comprised of scientists would incorporate traditional biodiversity knowledge into their discussions and policy recommendations.

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The Japan Times

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