Lifeline thrown to species at risk

Thousands of endangered species should be saved from extinction thanks to an ambitious plan to expand the world’s protected areas and improve their management approved last week by more than 120 countries.

To the surprise of many environmental groups, 12 days of often fractious negotiations at the convention on biological diversity in Kuala Lumpur resulted in a concrete programme to ensure the “significant reduction of biodiversity loss by 2010’‘.

It is feared, however, that governments will not provide enough money to cover the estimated £14-billion global annual shortfall in funding for species protection.

Martin Kaiser, head of the Greenpeace delegation, welcomed the agreement. “The plan they’ve agreed on is very ambitious and could really help reduce the loss of biodiversity.’’ He said he would be satisfied if species reduction was cut by 50% in the next six years.

About 12 200 species of plants and animals are on the world’s endangered list. In last week’s agreement the 123 governments involved agreed to ensure there would be sufficient protected areas by 2006 to safeguard the several thousand species classified as critically endangered.

By 2010 each country is required to designate 10% of its territory as protected.
Local indigenous communities will be involved in all decisions on the management of the zones, which will also be assessed by a global monitoring network.

Marine zones, to be included in the plan by 2012, will be expanded to encompass deep sea mountains and other areas in international waters rich in biodiversity but at risk from trawlers.

Three working groups are to be set up to continue the work of the conference, focusing on protected areas, indigenous people and their traditional knowledge, and sharing the benefits of biodiversity.

The last group is designed to address the fear in developing countries that the financial benefits of conservation will be enjoyed by the rich states.

Martin Cullen, the Irish environment minister and president of the European Union environment ministers council, said: “The interaction between the different groups has been open; it’s been helpful.’‘

But representatives of smaller countries felt they had been bullied into agreement. A delegate from an Asian island state said there had been an obvious strategy by “several countries who had clearly planned in advance to scupper the conference’‘. He declined to name the countries.

But Greenpeace nominated Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and the US for its 2004 award as “champion assassin of life on Earth’‘.

Argentina and Australia were criticised for trying to give trade issues priority over environmental concerns, and other countries were accused of holding up debate and trying to weaken the terms of the final agreement.

Campaigners also highlighted the funding crisis hampering global efforts to conserve biodiversity.

Gordon Shepherd, director of international policy at World Wildlife Fund International, said “at a rough guess’’ the funding was about 10% of what it should be. — Â

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