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Biodiversity issue highlights divided opinions

Mountain meadow full of flowers Hans Reinhard/OKAPIA

Nearly 200 countries, including Switzerland, have agreed on steps to save animal and plant life from threats including pollution and climate change.

This content was published on May 30, 2008 - 19:49

At a 12-day conference in Bonn, they also decided on a roadmap for working out by 2010 new rules, with legally binding elements, on access to natural resources and sharing their benefits.

While governments and the United Nations hailed the biodiversity meeting as a success, non-governmental organisations were disappointed by the results.

Switzerland's largest conservation organisation, Pro Natura, said the biodiversity issue was not being taken seriously enough, criticising the lack of a biodiversity strategy from Switzerland.

"We know that there are shortcomings regarding the maintenance of biodiversity both globally and in Switzerland," commented Bruno Oberle, director of the Federal Environment Office.

Awareness

He said countries around the world had not taken enough action, but he believed the Bonn conference was a success and awareness of the need to maintain biodiversity had grown considerably.

Among other things, the conference adopted a work programme to assess the impact of biofuels on biodiversity by 2010. Such fuels can threaten biodiversity, for instance, if forests are cleared or wetlands drained to grow crops for fuel.

While some argued that the conference had succeeded in putting the issue of biodiversity on the political agenda, activists said progress was too slow.

"The UN biodiversity summit inches forward like a snail while animals and plants are being wiped out at great speed," said Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace delegation in Bonn.

Swiss Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger on Wednesday called for concrete results from the conference, arguing that biodiversity was of existential importance.

Effective standards

He said Switzerland was pushing for effective standards on biofuels and for larger nature reserves.

During the conference, delegates and environmentalists consistenly said that human activity and greenhouse gas emissions were causing the most serious spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

Three species die out every hour, they said.

They added that this had major economic consequences and had heightened worries about the recent surge in world food prices due to booming demand.

swissinfo with agencies

Bonn meeting

The ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 9) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), took place in Bonn, Germany, from May 19 to 30, 2008. The fourth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety took place in the preceding week.

COP 9 coincided with International Biodiversity Day, on May 22.

The CBD is one of the three agreements under international law that were passed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The three goals of the CBD are to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources

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Economic cost

A report released on Thursday has warned that mankind is causing €50 billion (SFr81 billion) of damage to the planet's land areas every year from factors such as pollution and deforestation.

This makes it imperative for governments to act to save plants and animals, the Bonn conference heard.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, set up by the German government and the European Commission, also argued that current rates of natural decline might reduce global GDP by about 7% by 2050.

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