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Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

COP10 end near; unified political will for biodiversity deal eludes

Staff writer

NAGOYA — With long-standing differences still dividing COP10 and the tone of negotiations hardening as the conference entered its final days, delegates and NGOs now believe only strong political leadership at the top will yield results.

Senior ministers, including five heads of state, were due to arrive beginning Tuesday for the remaining three days. The fate of the Nagoya meeting now depends on whether the ministers can take over from the bureaucrats who have been negotiating since Oct. 18 and conclude negotiations on three separate but related issues.

These include a new protocol on access to genetic resources, a detailed strategy to preserve biodiversity in the next decade, and funds for developing countries struggling to cope with biodiversity loss.

The conclusion of an access and benefit-sharing (ABS) agreement on genetic resources, delegates and nongovernmental organizations say, remains the key to the conference's success or failure.

But fundamental disagreements on how to include the rights of governments with large groups of indigenous peoples and how to prevent biopiracy continue to plague negotiations.

Canada has been singled out by NGOs for its attitude toward the rights of indigenous peoples in the new protocol.

Minister of Indian Affairs John Duncan told Canadian media last week that the ABS agreement was about intellectual property rights, not about the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Adopted in 2007 by the U.N. General Assembly, the declaration was opposed by Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

"It's shocking that the Indian affairs minister would misinform the public. The (ABS) protocol addresses genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. The U.N. declaration affirms indigenous rights in all of these matters," Armand MacKenzie, executive director of Canada's Innu Nation, said Tuesday.

In the morning, the ABS negotiators had reported progress on the 23-page draft protocol that will set international rules on prospecting for genetic resources, turning them into commercial products, and returning the profits to either the countries of origin or the indigenous peoples from whose lands they came.

Much work remained, though. No progress was reported on issues like compensation for existing drugs and biotech products based on genetic resources and their associated knowledge, utilized without the consent of those on the lands where the resources were originally discovered.

The issue of monitoring, tracking and reporting the utilization of genetic resources and traditional knowledge is another sticking point.

Many developed countries, especially within the European Union, do not want to provide lists of checkpoints within a user country that would help prevent biopiracy.

Agreeing on biodiversity preservation targets by 2020 is another COP10 goal. Some progress, especially on establishing terrestrial protection zones, was reported Tuesday.

Delegates and NGOs were hopeful the Convention on Biodiversity establishes a target of at least 15 percent of terrestrial areas as protected zones, where there would be restrictions on human contact and intervention.

Other issues that senior ministers will have to work out include whether to reduce, by 2020, the loss of natural habitats by half or bring them close to zero, and whether to agree to eliminate destructive fishing practices, also by 2020, or to harvest fish in a sustainable manner and restore their numbers.

Much attention over the past week has been focused on the issue of protected marine areas. But ministers face a major problem with agreeing on a final number.

Some nations, including Japan, favor a 15 percent target. Other nations, such as China, do not want more than 6 percent, while others have suggested somewhere between 6 and 20 percent.

Doubts were growing Tuesday that even with strong political backing, the ministers could forge a compromise on a final number by Friday, when COP10 ends.

Not only are there different stances among the nations on numbers, but also many developing countries are skeptical financial aid will meet whatever strategic plan for 2020 the conference adopts.

Over the next few days, developed countries, including Japan, are expected to announce new financial packages designed to help developing countries formulate national strategies to deal with biodiversity loss.

Until the money is on the table, though, developing countries are reluctant to commit to specific targets.

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The Japan Times

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