Sunday, October 31, 2010

Biodiversity talks end with call for ‘urgent’ action

Optimum population trust news watch

The UN biodiversity meeting in Japan has agreed a 10-year plan aimed at preserving nature. Targets for protecting areas of land and sea were weaker than conservation scientists wanted, as was the overall target for slowing biodiversity loss. Most developing countries were pleased with measures aimed at ensuring they get a share in profits from products made from plants and other organisms. Nations have two years to draw up plans for funding the plan.
“This agreement reaffirms the fundamental need to conserve nature as the very foundation of our economy and our society,” said Jim Leape, director-general of WWF International. “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.”
The meeting settled on targets of protecting 17% of the world’s land surface, and 10% of the oceans, by 2020. These are regarded as too small by many conservation scientists, who point out that about 13% of the land is already protected - while the existing target for oceans is already 10%.
Many poorer countries say they do not have the resources to implement such targets. “The forest and the other biological resources we have serve the general interests of the global environment,” said Johansen Voker from Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency. “So we expect assistance to be able to effectively conserve our environment for the common good of the world community.”
Developed nations agreed to establish mechanisms for raising finance to help them - which could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars per year by 2020. They are required to have a plan to raise such sums in place by 2012, when Brazil will host the second Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
This event was also reported (see below) at Short, Sharp Science, a blog form New Scientist worth a look! Click on new scientist link above!
Sujata Gupta, reporter
In the wee hours of Friday morning, delegates attending the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, reached an ambitious agreement to save the world's ecosystems.
Representing almost 200 countries, the delegates pledged to protect 17 per cent of land and inland waters and 10 per cent of the oceans by 2020. Today, 13 per cent of land is protected but only 1 per cent of the oceans.
Those conservation measures fell under a 20-point plan calling for, among other things, habitat conservation, reductions in pollution and an end to "perverse subsidies" for environmentally destructive practices.
Until Friday morning, though, one point in particular threatened to derail the entire plan: the equitable sharing of biological resources between rich and poor countries.
 This interview (below) with UN goodwill ambassador for Biodiversity Edward Norton was also found at New Scientist :

Edward Norton: What's the first rule of Peace Club?

Explaining why biodiversity matters (Image: Sipa Press/Rex Features)
Explaining why biodiversity matters (Image: Sipa Press/Rex Features)
The Hollywood actor, long an active conservationist and fundraiser, is a United Nations goodwill ambassador on biodiversity
You became a United Nations goodwill ambassador for biodiversity in July – how did you become interested in biodiversity and conservation?
I have been interested in these issues all my life, largely because my father worked professionally in the conservation movement for most of my growing up – he was the head of public policy for the Wilderness Society [a US conservation organisation]. He founded the Grand Canyon Trust and was one of the founders of the Rails to Trails Conservancy [which works to convert disused railway routes to walking and cycling trails]. Later he initiated the [US-based] Nature Conservancy's China country programme.
So I have always been steeped in these issues through his work. And with my brother and sister, my dad was always taking us on adventures to wild places, to places of beauty, hiking, scuba diving and river rafting. He always immersed us in the intellectual and emotional values of conservation.
What does being goodwill ambassador mean to you personally?
It's a compliment to be asked, but mostly I think of it as an opportunity to engage in another way. The fact that the issue of biodiversity loss is probably less front-and-centre than, say, climate change – even though they are interrelated – made me feel there was an opportunity to assist in highlighting it.
The UN has said we have reached a crisis point with biodiversity, and you have talked about getting the message out to "street level" and that biodiversity is not just an abstract concept for an "environmental elite": how can we change this?
If you are going to look for an opportunity in a terrible circumstance like the Gulf oil spill, one thing that it illuminates is the way that ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss has a direct negative impact on our lives. We can talk about loss of species but people don't necessarily have the context to understand that; they don't necessarily feel the connection.
Events like the oil spill can help people at least have a clearer understanding of the way biodiversity connects to our daily lives. We have to acknowledge that taking certain actions and making changes to confront an issue sometimes means the political sphere has to be engaged. It's unfortunate but true that sometimes negative consequences can drive change. Of course we all want to highlight positive stories, but highlighting negative impacts has an important role too.
You mean like highlighting the ecosystem effects of an event like the Gulf oil spill?
The spill is making that pretty apparent on its own! I like to highlight other lines of connection people might not have thought of, such as the role bees and butterflies and other pollinators play in most of our food crops. There's no synthetic or industrial way to pollinate all the plants we rely on. If you illuminate or articulate some of these connections it can help people get beyond a view of animals having only an emotional value.
The biodiversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan, is on right now: you've spoken out about the US being one of the few countries not to sign up to the Convention on Biological Diversity. What difference would it make if the US signed?
The US can't have its cake and eat it too. You can't assert that your leadership and example are meaningful on some issues and not on others.
When the US won't participate it sends a message to the rest of the world that the whole thing is gestural and not really meaningful. I think the US's formal participation would and will help authenticate the commitments and make them more substantive. The situation is not dissimilar to the impacts many people observed resulting from the US failing to sign the Kyoto protocol.
You're on the board for the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, and president of its US branch. Can you tell me a bit about your own environmental and conservation interests?
I have been involved with different organisations for years as a financial supporter or on their boards. But I started to feel that in some places large non-governmental organisations are not effective in bringing their resources to bear unless there are strong local conservation partners. Local advocacy and local implementation is a component in this issue.
So I started working with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, which works with a specific Maasai community in the Chyulu hills in southern Kenya. That's where Ernest Hemingway wrote the Green Hills of Africa and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. We work with a Maasai community that owns vast tracts of wilderness between three national parks – nearly 2 million acres [800,000 hectares] of land. Even when you set up national parks, animals migrate: the health of the watersheds outside these parks is vital to life in them. It's all interconnected. An ecosystem doesn't recognise the boundaries of a park. So a lot of the health of this particular ecosystem relies on the way the Maasai use their natural resources.
The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust's core mission is to partner with the Maasai and to figure out many different ways they can create sustainable economic benefits by managing their land wisely. For example, the development of ecotourism, or getting lease payments for setting aside certain zones as conservancy.
You've recently set up your own social networking website for fundraising, Crowdrise. Tell me about that?
Whether you are running the London Marathon for a charity or you just want to ask people in your life to support a cause you care about, Crowdrise gives you tools to do that effectively. It's also meant to be fun.
Crowdrise has a virtual points system, like frequent-flyer miles. When people see what you are doing and they like it, they can award you points, which are redeemable against products. It sets up competitive fun.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he hoped you'd move the world from Fight Club to Peace Club when he appointed you as goodwill ambassador: what's the first rule of Peace Club?
[Laughs] I think Crowdrise's slogan is a good one. Which is: 
"If you don't give back, no one will like you."

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