Nearly 200 nations agreed to an ambitious plan to protect endangered plants, animals and ecosystems. The BBC’s Richard Black shares the last-minute agreement at the UN’s biodiversity summit in Japan.Download MP3(Photo: Sasata)
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LISA MULLINS: It was down to the wire in Nagoya, Japan, today. Negotiators at an international meeting on biodiversity had to work late into the night to hammer together a final, potentially ground-breaking agreement. The UN conference was called to address the alarming decline of ecosystems, and plant and animal species, around the world. There’s no disagreement that humans are responsible for the crisis. But as with last year’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, the devil was in the details of who should do what to help turn things around. The BBC’s Richard Black is in Nagoya. Sounds like a lot was done in the past two weeks specifically this last-minute deal which has been called historic. What is the deal?
RICHARD BLACK: Well, the deal really contains three main elements. One of them is an agreement on something called access and benefit sharing. This is aimed at preventing what’s called biopiracy where, for example, a Western pharmaceutical company goes to the Amazon rainforest or something, discovers a plant, develops a miracle drug, makes billions, and that Amazonian country doesn’t get anything for it. This agreement should stop that happening in future, although perhaps not actually with US companies because the US isn’t a party to this protocol. So that was one thing. Another thing is targets for protecting plants, animals and areas of the world. And a third thing was raising money, big sums of money, in future to help poorer countries do the conservation work that they say they want to do, but don’t have the resources to do.
MULLINS: So is this indeed a historic agreement?
BLACK: Well, I think it is in several senses. If you look for the single thing that to me marks a bit of a transformation it is that governments have pledged to phase out subsidies that harm biodiversity, but introduce economic incentives for things that protect biodiversity. Now that’s quite a change around when you think of all the things that governments do give money to at the moment which do harm nature.
MULLINS: So, it sounds like the message that was underlying all of these moves was that nature left alone provides a greater service than nature manipulated?
BLACK: Well, at least it was that governments ought to know what the relative value of those things is before they make a decision. So this was it. I mean this [INDISCERNIBLE] services, as its called, or valuation of natural capital, it won’t stop things that sort of damage the environment, but it will enable people to make better decisions about what to do and when to do it.
MULLINS: Alright. In terms of what to do and when to do it, in terms of the scale of the problem itself, what are biologists telling us about the rates of extension and erosion of ecosystems?
BLACK: There’s any number of statistics you can pull out really. We had here, as if to underline things, the announcement of 2010’s Red List of Threatened Species and some of the statistics there are pretty horrible. I mean you’ve got about 40% of amphibian species on the road to extinction, 20% of all species. You’ve got all the protection measure around the world doing some good, but not really very much. And above all you’ve got the things that are driving that decline still going on. Human population growth, expansion of agriculture, expansion of cities, pollution, climate change. Coming up to this meeting governments didn’t realize that you have to attack some of the things like subsidies that actually drive the things that are causing biodiversity loss.
MULLINS: Okay. Just one follow up. You were in Copenhagen for the climate summit a year ago. Nobody seemed happy with the outcome there. Are folks happier with the outcome right now in Nagoya?
BLACK: Hugely. Hugely. I mean some of the same people were in Copenhagen, as you saw here, and this was tense, you know. I mean with a day to go, it was not certain that anything was going to be done here. And there were a lot of glum faces. Reminded me a bit of those final painful days in Copenhagen. But by the end of the meeting here, massive applause, everyone patting each other on the back.
MULLINS: Alright. Thank you very much. The BBC’s Richard Black at the UN conference on biodiversity which just finished up in Nagoya, Japan.
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