Greed Stalls 21st Century Bio-Economy

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, May 31 (IPS) – The world community took some ever-so-careful steps towards slowing the biodiversity crisis at a major U.N. meeting in Bonn, while emphasising the need for urgency and action.

Agreement on the need for more protected areas in tropical forests and oceans was universal, but only Germany offered any new funding. On the contentious issue of biofuels and their impacts on food and biodiversity, members agreed at the last minute that biofuels production ought to be environmentally sustainable and not impact biodiversity. There was also an agreement on a de facto moratorium on ocean fertilisation schemes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $785 million a year to protect forests.

And, after 16 years of meetings, the 168 nations that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) agreed to a final two-year timetable to establish an asset and benefit sharing (ABS) regime.

ABS is about access to biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from its use. The intent is to end “biopiracy” — the exploitation of indigenous plants and animals for profit without permission or compensation — and reverse countries’ denial of access to any native species for scientific or commercial purposes. Half of all synthetic drugs have been derived from plants or insects.

“This is a real breakthrough. This agreement is a detailed framework on how to put ABS into place,” said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the president of the CBD for the next two years.

It might seem strange that delegates enthusiastically cheered this “Bonn Mandate”, an agreement to have two more years of meetings. But in fact, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have fought hard against anything resembling a legal obligation to compensate countries in the developing world for the use of their genetic resources, a delegate from Malaysia told IPS:

“They don’t want to share any money they’ve made from using our biodiversity.” Continue reading