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Biodiversity Conference Ends with Mixed Results

The organizers of the UN biodiversity conference that ended in Bonn on Friday evening claimed success in securing funding to protect wildlife, while activists voiced disappointment over what they saw as slow progress.

Activists protesting on the margins of the UN biodiversity conference

WWF activitsts were not impressed by the outcome of the UN biodiversity conference

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, the conference president, said "greater consensus than hoped for at the start" had been reached.

Sigmar Gabriel

Sigmar Gabriel was satisfied with the outcome of the conference

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was "alive again and back on the international political agenda," Gabriel said.

But environmental organizations Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) expressed scepticism.

The conference had "confirmed the indifference of the international community when it comes to protecting forests, protecting the climate and conserving biodiversity," Greenpeace said.

Proceedings had "inched forward like a snail" in the face of rapid species loss, it said.

Greenpeace and the WWF cast doubt on whether the goal of significantly cutting species loss by 2010 could be reached. But both organizations welcomed additional funding promised by Germany, Norway and Finland.

A de facto moratorium

UN Naturschutzkonferenz

Gene-manipulated trees were a particular concern for environmental activists

Gabriel said the conference had secured a "de facto moratorium" on marine fertilization, the controversial practice of seeding the seas with iron filings to promote algae blooms in the hope of absorbing carbon dioxide.

CBD officials warn research is lacking on the impact on marine ecosystems.

Gabriel highlighted the agreement struck on access and benefit sharing (ABS) from nature's resources, as the 12-day conference's main achievement.

The ABS deal -- known as the Bonn Mandate -- has laid down a specific agenda to be discussed ahead of an agreement to halt "biopiracy" expected to be reached at the next CBD conference in the Japanese city of Nagoya in 2010.

Poorer countries with unique natural resources are concerned at the patenting of indigenous remedies by the pharmaceutical industry without payments to the countries where they originate.

Greenpeace and the WWF also saw the ABS deal as significant progress.

Life web

Sumatran Orangutan feedsing her offspring,

The international community still has a lot to do to protect endangered species

CBD officials applauded significant progress on protected areas, including the initiative put forward by host country Germany to set up an internet-based "Life Web" to link countries offering protected areas with countries prepared to fund them.

"This has been a major step forward," Gabriel said.

More than 30 countries had proposed a total area over land and sea of 68 million hectares -- equivalent to one-and-a-half times the area of Germany, he said, singling out Indonesia, Mexico and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Biofuel still controversial

Gabriel said that while there had been no substantive agreement on the controversial issue of biofuels, a work programme on the issue had been set up for the two years leading to the Nagoya conference.

Getreideanbau Biokraftstoff Symbolbild

Biofuel is still a contentious issue

Greenpeace said no progress had been made here, with Brazil "resisting binding rules to prevent the destruction of tropical forests that occurs to make way for biofuel plantations."

The differences between major biofuel producers, like Brazil, and major oil producers was made clear, with Libya and Qatar highlighting the rise in world food prices, which they attributed, at least in part, to using land for biofuel production.

Gabriel made a special point of thanking Arab oil producers for their "extreme flexibility."

Environmental groups were particularly critical of the lack of agreement on banning the trade in illegally logged timber, even though Gabriel claimed there had been progress in the shape of a call to countries for greater action.

On the planting of genetically modified trees, Gabriel said there was agreement that there had to be a "thorough risk analysis" before they were used.

Significant announcements

The conference also saw significant announcements from participating countries.

UN Naturschutzkonferenz

Environmentalist activists made sure their protest was visible

Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc announced four new protected areas, three of them in the Amazon Basin and stressed his commitment to zero net deforestation by 2020.

And Environment Minister Jose Endundo Bononge said DRC planned a huge new conservation area of up to 15 billion hectares -- or the size of Greece.

At a final plenary session continuing into Friday evening, conference delegates reached consensus agreement on dozens of changes to the final text, with Gabriel finding it necessary to call on some delegations to show flexibility.

The conference is the ninth meeting of the 191 countries participating in the CBD, which was agreed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and given added impetus at the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Summit a decade later.

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