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Forestry gets spotlight at UN biodiversity talks

Saving forests is topping the agenda of a UN summit on biodiversity in Japan. As the meeting enters its final days, there are growing fears that the talks could bog down amid acrimony between poor and rich countries.

A small tree left standing amid a deforested area of a national park in Madagascar

Deforestation has slowed since th 1990s, but continues at an alarming rate

Delegates at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan, have put sustainable forestry management at the forefront of their negotiations, as these habitats are home to thousands of the world's plant and animal species, and can also help slow global warming.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the world is currently losing some 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest cover per year, mostly in tropical countries.

That is down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s, but activists say it is still too much.

As well as hosting habitats for animals, forests help regulate climate and rainfall and also prevent soil erosion, flooding and landslides.

Seeing REDD

A green frog from the Amazon

Saving species is the aim of the conference, is forestry the way to get there?

On Tuesday, talks focused specifically on the UN-backed scheme called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation).

Under REDD, wealthier nations pledge funds to protect forests in poorer countries, which agree to forego their right to exploit these areas for timber or development.

"Our forests need immediate action," said Brazil's Environment Minister, Izabella Teizeira.

REDD has attracted funding pledges from some rich nations, but at this point it is mostly known for its troubled start.

Participants have bickered over how to manage the cash, as well as procedural issues.

The one-day REDD focus was aimed at giving the scheme a boost prior to major climate talks in Mexico in late November.

Negotiations on the pact have taken years and the UN says Nagoya needs to agree tougher targets to save the forests, reefs, rivers and wetlands that underpin livelihoods and economies.

"We are at a very pivotal time. We are losing biodiversity on the planet at an alarming rate that cannot go on or our children and our grandchildren will be that much poorer," Canada's Environment Minister Jim Prentice told Reuters news service.

However, even supporters of the scheme are voicing concerns about its potential abuse.

This week, the group Greenpeace took Papua New Guinea to task for its efforts to gain REDD funding, saying the country was more interested in cash and "not currently ready" to be involved.

The report also cited a lack of political leadership to implement the program properly.

"There has been little international interest in PNG as a responsible recipient of REDD funding due to high levels of corruption, 'carbon cowboy' scandals, and a lack of political leadership on REDD," it said.

A packet of pills

Many new drugs are derived from nature and genetic resources are a contentious issue

Slowing momentum

The Nagoya conference is also burdened by the failures of past pledges

In 2002, nations agreed to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 – a target which all countries have failed to achieve.

The talks, which continue through to October 29, aim to set new targets for protecting animal and plant species by 2020.

Biologists say many species are threatened with a global extinction crisis, and delegates are trying to agree on ways to spend some $4 billion (2.8 billion euros) to save forests in developing countries.

Yet on Tuesday, meetings seemed in danger of bogging down, the momentum sapped - as with climate talks - on acrimonious issues pitting rich countries against poor ones.

Brazil, for example, has threatened to make the issue of sharing the benefits of genetic resources – such as wild plants from rainforests, prized by biotech companies for making medicines – a deal-breaker for any overarching agreement encompassing the talks' other goals.

Author: Jennifer Abramsohn (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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