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Delegates deadlocked as UN nature meet nears end

October 29, 2010 7:20pm
TOKYO – Delegates from more than 190 countries struggled Friday to break a deadlock on setting ambitious goals to preserve animals, plants and ecosystems, raising the prospect that the two-week U.N. meeting might end in failure.

The biggest sticking point, participants said, was a division between developing and industrial nations over working out a system to fairly share in genetic resources, such as medicine extracted from plants — long a sore point for poorer countries.

Delegates at the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity meeting, held in Nagoya, southwest of Tokyo, have agreed on 16 of 20 strategic goals for 2020, attendees said, but have failed to reach consensus on the most contentious targets, including how much ocean space to set aside as protected.

Government ministers gathered Friday afternoon to try to hammer out final agreements and avoid the kind of collapse that befell last year's U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen. Attendees predicted the talks would extend into the night.

"It's a race against the clock to get something agreed upon," said Nathalie Rey, an oceans policy adviser with Greenpeace International. "Everybody's saying we can't go home empty-handed. So there's real pressure to make this happen."

One of the conference's key goals is to set measurable targets that will slow or halt the rate of extinctions and damage to ecosystems from pollution, over-exploitation and habitat destruction.

Scientists warn that unless action is taken to prevent such biodiversity loss, extinctions will spike and the intricately interconnected natural world could collapse with devastating consequences, from plunging fish stocks to less access to clean water.

Decisions at the conference must be reached by consensus, meaning even one country can block agreements.

And as is typical of such meetings, some countries strike deals with other nations, seeking progress in one area in exchange for their support in another, participants said.

Host nation Japan proposed a compromise text in the wee hours Friday morning, participants said, to break a logjam in the prickly area of sharing genetic resources, called "access and benefits-sharing," or "ABS," in U.N. parlance.

Developing nations and indigenous peoples argue they haven't benefited from resources such as native plants that have been developed into drugs by wealthy Western drug companies, so setting up a system to do that fairly is one of the meetings goals.

The African group warned early Friday morning that if there was no agreement on access and benefits-sharing, there would be no overall agreement, said Sonia Peno Morena, biodiversity policy officer at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN.

In trying to set up a fair system, the two sides were still bogged down in defining key terms, determining compliance issues and whether the protocol would be retroactive, she said.

"Everything hinges on ABS," said Rey. "Once the ABS agreement has been made, then hopefully the rest will fall into place."

Delegates were also unable to agree on how much of the world's oceans to designate as protected, which could range from a marine sanctuary to areas where sustainable fishing is allowed. The draft text contained three figures — 6 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent.

Concerns about how to pay for executing such targets was also an obstacle, attendees said.

Eager to make the meeting a success and kick-start the stalled talks, Japan on Thursday offered $2 billion to help developing nations reach the goals set by the conference — and make the meeting a success.

"There have been high expectations," said Peno Morena. "They don't want Nagoya to be compared to Copenhagen."—AP
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