UN Biodiversity Chief Calls for ‘New Plans’ to Conserve Life

By Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK, New York, November 3, 2009 (ENS) – A senior United Nations official today criticized world leaders for failing to match their words with deeds in addressing the ongoing loss of biological diversity.

“I am disappointed with their actions,” Ahmad Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, told ENS after addressing a news conference here at UN headquarters.

Today, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued its annual update to the Red List of Threatened Species, which documents how an increasing number of animal and plant species are becoming endangered and slipping into extinction.

Ahmad Djoghlaf (Photo courtesy UN)

Dr. Djoghlaf said there has been no progress, or very little progress, since 1992 when a vast majority of UN member states agreed to take meaningful steps to reverse the loss of biological diversity.

Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits from utilization of genetic resources. With 192 Parties, the Convention has near-universal participation among countries committed to preserving life on Earth.

Over the past 50 years, the population of Antarctic emperor penguins has declined by half due to a warming climate. (Photo courtesy CBD)

The Convention seeks to address all threats to biodiversity and ecosystem services, including threats from climate change, through scientific assessments, the development of tools, incentives and processes, the transfer of technologies and good practices and the full and active involvement of relevant stakeholders including indigenous and local communities, youth, nongovernmental organizations, women and the business community.

However, due to deep-seated differences among its signatories, the treaty has failed to achieve its objectives.

After tough negotiations at an international conference in Brazil in 2006, all the signatories agreed that they must resolve their disputes before the end of 2010, which the UN has declared the International Year of Biodiversity.

Djoghlaf said today that he hopes government leaders will agree to devise “new plans” when they meet at the next Conference of the Parties, which is due to be held in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.

The loss of animal and plant species is expected to accelerate as a result of global warming, said Djoghlaf, citing numerous studies showing that both plant and animal species are disappearing at a rate as high as 1,000 times the natural progression.

In his view, the world community cannot achieve the mutually agreed Millenium Development Goals as long as efforts to preserve biodiversity are unsuccessful.

Ahmed Djoghlaf with some of the 1,500 children of Curitiba, Brazil who wrote a letter voicing their concern about the planet. March 2008. (Photo courtesy CBD)

“Achieving the Millenium Development Goals is impossible without reversing the loss of biodiversity,” Djoghlaf said. “Climate change is a problem, but preserving biodiversity is part of the solution. Biodiversity is life.”

The Millenium Development Goals are eight targets for reducing poverty, illiteracy, disease and environmental pollution by 2015. They were set by world leaders at a major summit held in New York in 2000.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said repeatedly that the governments of both rich and poor countries need to do more to achieve these goals, including the ones on environment.

Djoghlaf said the world has lost about 30 million hectares of its forests, which are the essential source of biological diversity and ecosystem sustainability.

In many countries, deforestation is still ongoing, regardless of the fact that these governments signed on as Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, he warned.

In response to an ENS question about the conflict between the use of intellectual property rights by corporations and the universally recognized rights of the indigenous peoples, Djoghlaf said that no move to preserve biodiversity can be successful without the support of indigenous peoples.

Delegates from Brazil at the 2008 Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. (Photo courtesy CBD)

“They are playing a very significant role in global efforts to preserve biodiversity,” he said. “The private sector should understand this. It should understand that the future belongs to green business.”

On Monday, more than 300 participants met in Montreal at the headquarters of Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity to discuss the maintenance and promotion of traditional knowledge to better manage and conserve biological diversity.

While they are a small proportion of the world’s 6.3 billion people, indigenous and local communities represent the largest portion of linguistic and cultural diversity on Earth and their traditional lands and waters contain the greatest remaining reserves of biodiversity.

The practice of traditional knowledge nurtures biological resources and genetic diversity, participants in the Montreal meeting recognized.

“I firmly believe that the survival of species and the survival of traditional knowledge and of the holders of this knowledge are inextricably linked,” said Djoghlaf in Montreal.

“We are at a crossroad in life and a crossroad for the Convention and its partners, in particular, indigenous and local communities. 2010 will be landmark year in the history of the Convention,” he said. “A post-2010 biodiversity vision and target will be adopted to meet the unprecedented multiple crises facing humanity compounded by climate change.”

“In doing so,” he said, “we will need to learn and be inspired by the wisdom of our ancestors and the vision of today’s guardians of the traditional knowledge of mankind.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.