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UN environmental meeting aims to slow species loss

(DPA) / 18 March 2006

RIO DE JANEIRO - When the eighth UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) begins in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba on Monday much of the focus will be on the loss of species and the future of the Earth.

A lot of alarm bells are sounding about the rate of extinctions, but at this CBD, officials say a number of decisions are expected to be made that will put into practice several proposals that for years have existed only on paper.

“Our motto is implement, implement,” said Brazilian environmental minister Marina Silva, who is expecting to host more than 100 environmental officials from around the world. There are numerous international treaties that must be transformed into concrete action, she added.

“We find ourselves on the verge of the worst extinction crisis since the disappearance of the dinosaurs millions of years ago,” warned CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf. The world must act immediately, he said, adding that the Brazilian conference could go down in history as a seminal event in the effective implementation of convention agreements.

The world community has entered into such a decisive phase because never before has the Earth experienced such a rate of decline in its biodiversity, he said.

The environmental organization Greenpeace complained ahead of the meeting that the goal of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity signed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to reduce extinction rates by 2010 has not been a great success.

The speed at which plants and animal species are dying out is 1,000 times higher than in prehistoric times. Scientists estimate that if the current tendency persists, the rate could increase by 10 fold by the year 2050.

“Politicians must prevent massive extinctions around the world. Otherwise, future generations will fail to experience the economic, social and cultural advantages of a healthy planet,” said Paulo Adaro of Greenpeace in Brazil.

A total of 3,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries are expected to take part in the 12-day meeting in Curitiba, Brazil’s foremost ecological city. The main declared goal of the meeting is to give the CBD a boost and to agree on a variety of concrete measures and goals.

Brazil will begin a two-year presidency of the CBD, and during its term Brazil pledges to do everything to ensure the international protection systems to be decided in Curitiba have a “binding nature” among the 188 signatory countries, Silva said.

Reducing the destruction

Brazil has 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the entire biodiversity of the world, and thereby a special responsibility, Silva said.

“We must be clear about it. The loss of biodiversity affects especially developing countries and the poorest people,” she said. ”Biodiversity can conquer hunger. This is something governments, corporations, civil society and scientists must keep track of.”

Silva knows what she’s talking about. She grew up in the rain forest working as a rubber cutter. She didn’t learn to read and write until she was 18. She stresses that Brazil, a country that often is denounced for its environmental protection record, has increased the number of protected areas by 50 per cent or 8.2 million hectares in the three years since the left-leaning government of President Luiz Lula da Silva has been in power.

In Curitiba, Brazil wants to present to the world other good examples it has set, such as a reduction in the destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

“About 50 per cent of our gross domestic product comes from biodiversity: Agriculture, fisheries and the exploitation of the rain forest. We must be especially careful,” she said.

The three main goals of the CBD are protection of the diversity of species, sustainable economic use of biodiversity and equitable distribution of the benefits and gains realized through biodiversity. The last point will be heavily debated in Curitiba not only by politicians and scientists, but also by indigenous people from five continents.

“Indigenous people have traditional knowledge about plants and roots. We want to share this knowledge with modern science. But for it, our villages must be protected in consideration of the sharing of resulting profits as well as the rights to the land,” said Marcos Terena, coordinator of the indigenous people attending the meeting.

Although the knowledge of the indigenous people has been recognized by the convention, clear definitions are needed. Much discussion is expected over these matters as well.

Edna Marajoara, representative of small farmers and small populations of the rain forest, meanwhile, had ominous words about the invasion of genetically altered crops.

“There is huge destruction of the Amazon rain forest because of the spread of arable land,” she said. “We are afraid genetic products will contaminate our sources of water and our plants.”

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