Almost every country in the world has signed a UN agreement to attempt to halt biodiversity loss by expanding protected marine and land areas.
The Nagoya Protocol, agreed by 190 countries at the UN biodiversity summit in Japan, saw governments commit to increasing the amount of land-based protected areas and national parks from 12.5 per cent to 17 per cent of the Earth's surface. Marine protected areas will be expanded to 10 per cent, up from just under one per cent.
Governments also agreed to new compensation rules for genetic material which is turned into a profitable pharmaceutical or other product. Less industrialised countries and indigenous peoples argue they haven't benefited when native plants have been developed into drugs by multinational companies - despite the fact that a plant's genetics may have been conserved and managed by a community for millennia.
While welcoming the agreement, campaigners said many countries lacked the necessary funds to manage bigger protected areas. Greenpeace said it was 'shameful' that previous targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 had failed to be met by governments.
'If there is to be any success from this meeting it will come when these decisions are implemented and the hundreds of millions of people who need healthy oceans and intact forests feel the positive benefit,' said Greenpeace International Oceans Policy Analyst Nathalie Rey. 'As the international Year of Biodiversity draws to a close, we hope leaders can turn promises to action, provide funds to protect life on earth, and leave a legacy of a rescued planet that can sustain future generations.'
WWF said it hoped governments would follow through promises to incorporate biodiversity into national accounts, 'as an important political signal which has the potential to set in motion a different approach to economic decision-making.'
The Protocol saw countries promise to take a 'precautionary approach' to geo-engineering and other large-scale human interventions to alter the Earth's climate, which may affect biodiversity. However, this does not apply to the United States, which along with Andorra and the Holy See (the Vatican) is the only country not to have ratified the UN agreement on biodiversity.
Earlier this year, the UN also agreed to set up an international panel to peer-review scientific research on biodiversity and ecosystems. It is hoped the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will act as a stronger collective voice to get world governments to act.
The UNEP says many of the worrying findings about biodiversity loss in recent years had been ignored by governments and not been translated into 'meaningful and decisive action'.
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