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Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010

Envoys near COP10 deal but hurdles remain

Staff writer

NAGOYA — Halfway through the two-week COP10 biodiversity conference, a series of all-night negotiations have left many delegates exhausted but optimistic that a new protocol governing access to and compensation for genetic resources will be adopted before the event concludes Oct. 29.

But while negotiators are growing quietly confident that the access and benefit-sharing agreement, or ABS, will be successfully concluded, critics say it is unlikely to resolve the most contentious issues and that the resulting compromise will simply postpone the arguments for another two years until the COP11 conference in India, leaving a weak and ineffective agreement.

The heart of the debate revolves around the issue of accessing genetic resources often found in developing countries — especially areas with long-established indigenous populations — and fairly compensating the people whose resources and traditional knowledge are valued.

While the end of the first week saw senior negotiators claiming a good deal of progress, groups representing indigenous peoples and other NGOs argued it had come at the expense of protecting their rights under various other international treaties that protect their land and culture.

The ABS protocol is not the only issue at COP10. But it's the lynch pin of the entire conference. Failure to reach agreement there would mean there is unlikely to be strong agreement on three other issues.

A new strategic plan for protecting biodiversity resources over the next decade, including setting aside certain percentages of the Earth's terrestrial and marine areas as sanctuaries, is also to be adopted.

And COP10 is discussing endorsement of a new scientific body that, when finally established by the United Nations in the next few years, will provide policymakers coordinated advice on how to prevent biodiversity loss.

Finally there is the issue of funding. Once a strategic plan for 2020 is adopted, that discussion is likely to start taking place.

"For realizing the objectives under the international strategic plan, each country will first need to draw up its own national plans to meet the strategic plan that we'll agree to here in Nagoya. They'll then tell the COP10 biodiversity conference how they plan to meet those targets. For that, capacity building is necessary, which will require funding from the international community," Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto said Friday.

Negotiations are progressing on what the general goals of the strategic plan for biodiversity should be, and the draft text includes a proposal setting aside 15 to 20 percent of the world's land areas and a certain percentage of marine areas as protected biodiversity zones.

But there are political differences among countries over what percent of the oceans should be protected. There is also a reluctance by some NGOs to support percentages for protecting the forests, coastal regions and oceans due to concerns over how the expansion of protection zones would impact the hunting and fishing rights of indigenous peoples.

As of Saturday, what the final strategic plan would commit nations to remained unclear.

For Japan, a key COP10 goal was to secure agreement on the Satoyama Initiative, which has already happened. Matsumoto noted that as developing countries in particular seek to formulate national strategy plans to deal with biodiversity loss, they can incorporate the Satoyama Initiative.

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The Japan Times

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