Press Conference by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources on Loss of Biological Diversity

21 September 2010

Press Conference by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources on Loss of Biological Diversity

21 September 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by International Union for Conservation of Nature


and Natural Resources on Loss of Biological Diversity


With the very fabric of nature being torn apart at an alarming rate, urgent action, smartly allocated funds and a common vision for the long-term future were required to preserve the world’s precious, often irreplaceable, biological systems, experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) said at a Headquarters press conference today.

That message was delivered on the eve of the General Assembly’s first ever high-level meeting to examine how countries and their partners could stem the loss of biological diversity.  (See also Press Release GA/10990)  A summary of discussions held during tomorrow’s high-level event will be presented to the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10), to be held in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

Jane Smart, Director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group, said the 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook, released recently in Nairobi, concluded that, without creative action, natural systems supporting economies and livelihoods across the planet risked collapse.  “Everything we can measure tells us this,” she emphasized, pointing out that 1 in 3 amphibians and 27 per cent of the reef-building corals assessed faced extinction.  The fact that 8 per cent of the world’s population lived 100 kilometres from a coral reef showed the real danger to livelihoods, she added.

Moreover, 60 per cent of ecosystem services — processes by which the environment produced resources like water and timber — had been degraded, she continued, noting that genetic diversity, which was important for food and livestock diversity, was also declining.  “Biodiversity’s in trouble,” she stressed.

Ms. Smart said that in order to stave off further loss, countries meeting in Nagoya would consider a proposed strategic plan featuring 20 targets and a vision for the planet’s resources in 2050.  Those targets must be achieved by 2020 if the biodiversity crisis was to be avoided.  The strategic plan examined what was driving biodiversity loss and what was being done to prevent it, with a particular caveat that any conservation efforts undertaken must work.

Perhaps most importantly, the strategic plan focused on the difficult issue of money, she said, adding that adjusting business conduct could result in more resources being generated for conservation work.  For example, each year, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries spent $500 billion on “perverse subsidies” — those that harmed both economies and the environment — but converting part of that sum into subsidies for environmentally friendly fishing would create an upside.  Another idea, outlined in target 2 of the proposed strategic plan, called on countries to integrate biodiversity values into their national accounting practices, which would eventually lead to mainstreaming the practice, she said.  Certification schemes and payments for ecosystems services were other options.

Drawing the causal link to the Millennium Development Goals, Cyriaque Sendashonga, Director of the IUCN Programme and Policy Group, said that eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1) required more food, which was clearly linked to biodiversity.  In terms of reducing disease, more than half the medicines used to save lives were derived from plants or animals, she pointed out.  “There can be no real development without a healthy environment.”

Sustainable use of the environment and ensuring fair, equitable access to genetic resources was part of that picture, since well-managed ecosystems were critical for economic functioning, she said, noting that a new protocol on access and benefits-sharing would be presented at Nagoya, with the aim of injecting equity, fairness and incentives into the preservation of biodiversity.

Asked about using sustainable agriculture to reduce hunger, Ms. Sendashonga said that organic farming was just one of the many options available.  All influences contributing to hunger, not just the quantity of food, must be examined, she stressed, adding that food distribution, among other factors, should be examined more closely.

To a question about whether poor countries, which must focus on economic development, could incorporate technologies used in advanced economies to preserve biodiversity, Ms. Smart suggested first that environment ministries start talking with development ministries.  She said she had been encouraged by an OECD policy statement indicating that the Organization would consider biodiversity issues in distributing aid.  “We need to make sure words lead to the right kind of action,” she cautioned, adding that tomorrow’s event would be very good for that conversation.

Asked whether a balance was being achieved in countries that, on the one hand, were home to endangered species and, on the other, were investing money in genetically transformed species, Ms. Smart said it was “absolutely crazy” to be spending money on creating new species rather than preserving existing ones.  Many countries, especially in Latin America, were developing ecotourism industries, which could lead to such decisions, she noted.

Ms. Sendashonga added that the Convention on Biological Diversity offered a guide for approaching the question of genetically modified organism technology.  According to the Convention’s Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, there was no inherent problem with such technology, but it must be used with very strict safeguards.  Generally, if new technologies could contribute to the development of new medicines to fight disease, or food types to fight hunger, they must be used with caution, she said, noting that many species were being lost before their value to society could be determined.

Asked about proposals by Canada and other developed nations pushing for a decentralized approach to access and benefit-sharing, Ms. Sendashonga pointed out that, while IUCN did not examine Government positions, it did hope that the final regime would be fair to all parties involved.  It must also achieve its goal of facilitating access to genetic resources; ensure that indigenous peoples, who had a primary role in protecting resources, were rewarded for that; and ensure that incentives were in place to preserve biodiversity.  Finalizing the access and benefit sharing regime was critical for success at Nagoya, she stressed.

“It’s become a politically hot issue,” added Ms. Smart.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.