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Friday, 22 October 2010

Biodiversity talks currently underway in Nagoya, Japan, are garnering more and more media coverage as results are produced by committees - or not produced, which seems the more common outcome. Commentators discuss the long hours delegates are putting in with a view to achieving consensus ahead of the arrival, in the next few days, of government ministers from the 193 parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Major issues are protection of natural environments, such as marine areas, forests, and wetlands, and access and benefits sharing (ABS). ABS sees drug companies, for example in the developed world, compensating native peoples for the knowledge they possess about substances occurring in their territories that are subsequently converted into profitable medicines.

Both of these two major issues are proving hard to resolve in economic and policy terms. Australia, for example, has apparently resisted pressure to ban fishing on certain parts of the high seas due to economic reasons.

The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP10 as it's referred to normally, is a meeting of enormous scale. The implications of decisions made in Nagoya are far-reaching. Placing an economic value on the natural environment is one idea that is being discussed, and I talked yesterday about a well-researched paper that TEEB, a unit of UNEP, has produced.

With the world's population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, and per-capita incomes expected to rise, demand for food will increase. But we've only got one planet. If food production continues to deplete wild regions of their mass the number of species under threat of extinction or already extinct will also increase. Biodiversity is not just the province of fauna, however. Plants also perform essential services to replenish the biosphere and make it fit to inhabit. The soil in wetlands, for example, is packed with fauna that helps to purify water and the forests are filled with trees and other plants that help to extract carbon dioxide from the air producing life-giving oxygen.

The talks are already becoming polarised along lines familiar to watchers of the Copenhagen climate talks. Developed world corporate interests on the one hand are ranked against developing world minority interests on the other. But citizens of developing countries will lose out more through deforestation and overfishing than people living in the developed world, who will be able to afford alternative sources of protein and fresh vegetables. Poor people living next to forests or the ocean will simply starve.

The talks are also bleeding into climate action because of the effects of climate change on forests and the oceans. The former are suffering due to lower rainfall and higher temperatures. And the latter are suffering due to runoff of polluted water from over-fertilised agricultural operations on the shore, and from higher concentrations of CO2 in the water. A price will have to be attached to ecological resources. For this reason, everybody should be closely watching decisions as they are made by delegates and, more especially, by ministers as they arrive in Naogya. The media is doing a better job now in covering the convention than in the past week or so, but the volume of stories being produced in some countries, particularly Australia, is very disappointing.

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