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UN biodiversity conference convenes in The Hague

Reversing the tide of deforestation is a Swiss priority at the conference

(Keystone Archive)

Delegates from nearly 200 countries are meeting in The Netherlands to try to improve protection of the world's plants and animals.

Forests, genetic resources and invasive alien species top the agenda at the two-week United Nations biodiversity conference in The Hague.

The conference comes amid growing concern that the agreements signed by world leaders, ten years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio have had little effect.

The planet's biological wealth was supposed to gain protection from the Convention on Biological Diversity but extinction trends in plants and animals are continuing.

"The loss of biodiversity has not stopped," Beat Nobs, head of Switzerland's negotiating delegation, told swissinfo. "It is very important that we succeed in making that stride forward because we are worried about a continual loss of biodiversity on a worldwide scale."

Genetic resources

The convention relies on cooperation between biologically rich tropical countries and economically richer nations in the industrialised world.

Ministers, government officials and experts in The Hague are hoping to adopt international guidelines, which will better regulate access to genetic resources in return for benefits for the countries of origin.

"We must make sure that access to these genetic resources are managed in an equitable way between industrial countries which are in a position to manufacture, for example, pharmaceutical goods, based on these resources, and the countries where these resources grow," said Nobs.

Tropical forests also come under the remit of the Biodiversity Convention. The global rate of tropical forest destruction remains at the level it was in the early 1990s. Delegates in The Hague are hoping to agree on measures, which will help reverse the tide of deforestation.

"What we would like to see is a work plan in place on forests," said Nobs. "Regretfully, not much has been done in the field of forests over the last ten years so it is high time that we do something."

Alien species

The other main priority at the conference is to step up the war against invasive alien species - the second biggest cause after habitat destruction of extinction and biodiversity loss.

The two-week conference is an important milestone on the road to the next earth summit in South Africa in September.

"It is very important that we send a good message from the conference to the summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg because biological loss is something that we encounter all across the globe," said Nobs.

The conference in The Hague runs until April 19. The Swiss environment minister, Moritz Leuenberger, is due to attend the ministers' meeting on April 17-18.

by Vincent Landon

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