Nearly 200 nations have agreed to a sweeping plan to stem the loss of species by setting new targets to ensure greater protection of nature and enshrine the benefits it gives mankind.
Environment ministers, including Switzerland’s Moritz Leuenberger, also agreed on rules for sharing the benefits from genetic resources from nature between governments and companies.
The two-week meeting in Nagoya, Japan, settled on targets of protecting 17 per cent of the world's land surface, and 10 per cent of the oceans, by 2020.
A key sticking point that was overcome was the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) protocol, which gives developing countries a fairer share of the profits made by companies which exploit their rich genetic resources. This trade and intellectual property issue could be worth billions of dollars in new funds for developing nations.
The ministers also agreed to take steps to put a price on the value of benefits such as clean water from watersheds and coastal protection by mangroves by including such "natural capital" into national accounts.
Services provided by nature to economies were worth trillions of dollars a year, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said in a statement.
Leuenberger called the deal in Japan an “enormous success” which showed that consensual solutions within the framework of the United Nations were possible.
The last minute breakthrough came as a surprise to the Swiss representative, who used his speech to the conference to strongly criticise industrialized countries, including his own.
“In Switzerland, I was advised not to mention our shortcomings to the outside world. I find this attitude wrong.” He noted in particular that the Swiss parliament had recently softened its stance on the protection of wolves and had refused to ratify the nine protocols of the Alpine Convention.
Worse than dinosaurs
According to the UN, the planet is facing the worst extinction rate since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago.
A study published in the journal Science has found that around one-fifth of animal and plant species are under threat of extinction.
On average, around 50 species of mammals, birds and amphibians move closer to extinction every year because of expansion of farms and plantations, logging and over-hunting. Another factor is competition from other species, particularly those introduced from other areas.
But envoys were split for a long time on how ambitious they should be in new conservation targets after most countries – including Switzerland – failed to meet a goal for a “significant reduction” in losses of biological diversity by 2010.
Developing nations had originally refused to sign up to the 2020 goals without agreement on the ABS protocol.
The compromise deal is seen as an important step by the Japanese government, which had been pushing hard for pact.
Environmental groups also welcomed the deal.
“Governments have sent a strong message that protecting the health of the planet has a place in international politics and countries are ready to join forces to save life on Earth,” said WWF International Director General, Jim Leape.
The Swiss conservation organisations, Pro Natura, BirdLife Switzerland and Bern Declaration said they were “cautiously optimistic”. However, they regretted that the original goals had been watered down and loopholes would permit biopiracy to continue.
They also said the protection goals were set too low, arguing that a minimum of 25 per cent of the world’s land surface and 20 per cent of the oceans should have been agreed.
Global biodiversity fight
The tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity was held from October 18-29 in Nagoya, Japan. Around 190 countries took part. A ministerial section was held from October 27-29.
The United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and was taking part in the talks only as an observer.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on December 29, 1993. It has 3 main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.
In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention committed themselves to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss. Most countries, including Switzerland, have not achieved this goal.
The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.
(with input from Isobel Leybold-Johnson), swissinfo.ch and agencies