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An unexpected success, Nagoya summit offers hope for future environment talks

14 December 2010

TP

It does not often happen that an international top-level environment conference receives positive comments and a broad welcome, even from environmental organizations. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) however, held in Nagoya from 18 to 29 October 2010, is generally considered a to be a decisive and even historic step towards an effective protection of biodiversity.

Contrary to the negotiations on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009, the Nagoya talks reached a consensus among 193 states even on difficult issues that were controversially discussed for decades.

One of the assembly’s core accords, the Nagoya Protocol, is the first international treaty ever to assure a state’s right to control its own biological resources and to protect them against actors from outside.

To combat biopiracy, the deputies agreed to introduce an “Access and Benefit Sharing” (ABS) scheme where if a state or a company operating in the development of pharmaceutical products wishes to make use of genetic material found in such ecosystems as coral reefs or rain forests, it must first obtain the permission of the local authorities and negotiate a contract.

In addition to assuring compensation payments and proper regulations, such a contract may guarantee to the country of origin an equity in the anticipated profit.  Every member state of the Convention of Biodiversity (CBD) will establish national focal points that can be contacted in cases where natural resources are to be explored by private actors.

Recognizing this regime of compensation payments, developing and threshold countries were committed to enlarging their protection zones.  As a result, the protected areas of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems will grow from 13 per cent to 15 percent worldwide, and 10 per cent of the world’s maritime and coastal biodiversity will now be placed under national protection (as against the current rate of 1 per cent).

The CBD member states also agreed on measures to reduce pollution and to restore at least 15 per cent of degraded natural habitats.  A stricter regulation of fishery policies will help to reduce over-fishing.

Considerable success was achieved also in the negotiations on funding safeguard measures: Japan announced a grant of USD 2 billion and the establishment of a national Biodiversity Fund, whereas France, the European Union and Norway will mobilise USD 110 million in support of the implementation of the CBD projects.

A set of different factors contributed to the success of Nagoya.  Both the scale of the event, as well as the expectations, were much smaller than in the case of Copenhagen.  The EU negotiators, in order to avoid another failure, this time received a wider mandate. The United States – often applying the brakes on environmental protection regimes – had never signed the CBD and therefore had nothing at stake in Nagoya, whereas China and India showed much willingness to compromise.  The Japanese summit management was generally acknowledged as a remarkable mediating influence.

The biodiversity talks did not only teach us about the power of goodwill, compromise, and openness to dialogue.  Nagoya’s main achievement was to overcome isolated conceptions of environmental protection and to integrate the biodiversity question into a greater and comprehensive context.

Biological diversity, the summit showed, is not only a matter of saving endangered species, but of preventing risks to entire ecosystems, economies and human societies.  By this approach, the assembly succeeded in reconciling even groups normally opposed to each other, such as environmentalists and insurers or investors.  In this way, Nagoya offered several lessons for future negotiations.

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