India facilitating global plan to save animals and plants

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NAGOYA - The Oct 18-29 UN biodiversity summit Thursday appointed India as one of the facilitators in an attempt to reach a global deal that aims to halt the loss of plants, animals and their habitats by 2020.

The summit of 192 countries and the European Union (EU) here has been stuck over three points - what percentage of the earth’s land and seas should be set aside for conservation; how much should rich countries pay poor countries for this; how much should pharmaceutical and cosmetics firms pay when they use the traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. The third point is about the debate known as access and benefit sharing (ABS).

A day after it was revealed that a fifth of all life on earth was at extinction risk, negotiators from different countries clubbed the first two points into what they call “strategic plan and strategic resource mobilisation” to conserve biodiversity. Four facilitators were appointed to hammer out an agreement on this - India, Britain, Sweden and Malawi, according to Vijai Sharma, secretary in the environment ministry, who is leading the Indian delegation.

Sharma told IANS he was confident that a plan would be evolved by the deadline on Friday. Other negotiators said agreement had been reached only when specific percentages on how much land and water to protect had been dropped, and when developing countries agreed not to insist on additional financing from rich countries for conservation. The plan would be non-binding.

UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) chief Ahmed Djoghlaf told IANS: “We will have an Aichi-Nagoya protocol on ABS and an Aichi-Nagoya strategy for biodiversity conservation by Friday.” Some members of the CBD secretariat however joined the thousands of NGO representatives gathered here in expressing their unhappiness with the dropping of targets, both for protected areas and for money.

“We would rather have no deal than a weak deal,” a senior member of the secretariat told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On the ABS question, for quite some time it was not clear if there would even be a weak deal. The four facilitators appointed to reach agreement over that issue - which has long exercised Indians over patenting of basmati rice, neem or turmeric - were Brazil, EU, Norway and Namibia. Negotiators from Brazil and the EU have been clashing over this for more than a week, and there was consternation in the corridors when the EU representative did not turn up for the meeting of facilitators. But it was later found that he had been lost in the sprawling Nagoya Congress Centre, and the meeting began, hours late, once he found the right room.

As host country, Japan has been trying very hard to ensure the success of this summit. On Wednesday, its government announced the setting up of a $2 billion fund that would help poor countries preserve biodiversity, by far the highest amount pledged by any rich country.

Celebrities lent their weight to an agreement too. Harrison Ford, who has long been on the board of directors of Conservation International, came here to support his organisation’s plea that 25 percent of all land area and 15 percent of the seas be set aside for protection of animals and plants. The Hollywood star made a strong plea to his country’s government to ratify the biodiversity convention, the US being the only major country not to have done so.

The hero of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series went around meeting delegation leaders and appealing to them “to set national interests aside to the extent possible in our own human interest”. But going to by the weakness of the proposed deals, not many of the bureaucrats were listening.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

Filed under: Environment

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