German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned of the dangers of failing to halt the loss of threatened species. His words echoed those of experts concerned about the future of natural cures.
Nature has provided basis for creating medicines
Speaking to parliament on Thursday, May 8 -- 11 days before a major UN biodiversity conference opens in Bonn -- Gabriel said the international community was "a long way" from meeting the goal it had set itself of halting the loss of species by 2010.
Species loss is the central theme of a meeting of the signatory parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Bonn on May 19-30.
More than 5,000 delegates from all over the world will visit Bonn to discuss protecting and the preserving of species and habitats, sustainable use of biological diversity, and fair distribution of access and exploitation.
Environment minister warns of threat to billions
"We're talking about the very survival of billions of people on our planet," Gabriel told the Bundestag.
The CBD was at a crossroads, Gabriel said. "We cannot rule out the possibility that it might fail once more, although we are aiming at success."
The German environment minister stressed the need for developing countries to be treated fairly when it comes to protecting the environment.
Kuenast warned of industrial influence
Speaking for the opposition Green party, Renate Kuenast said the industrialized world was consuming at the cost of developing countries.
She highlighted the concern that large companies were patenting the rights to seeds, saying indigenous peoples were being dispossessed. She also accused countries like Brazil of destroying indigenous forest for cattle ranching.
The Bundestag also passed a motion calling for biofuel production to have no negative effects on nature conservation.
The ninth meeting of the countries that have ratified the CBD, initially agreed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, aims to begin drawing up a binding agreement to halt the loss of species at the Bonn meeting, although pre-conference information points to a deadlock.
The convention has been ratified by 189 countries, but not by the United States.
Natural remedies and cures at risk
Experts warn that the world risks wiping out a huge amount of future antibiotics and disease cures if it fails to reverse the rapid extinction of thousands of plant and animal species.
Biodiversity loss has reached alarming levels, and disappearing with it are the secrets to finding treatments for pain, infections and a wide array of ailments such as cancer, they said, citing the findings of a coming book.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), said more than 16,000 known species are threatened with extinction.
UNEP's Achim Steiner says treatments are at risk
"We must do something about what is happening to biodiversity," he said at a news conference on the sidelines of the UN-backed Business for the Environment conference. "Societies depend on nature for treating diseases. Health systems over human history have their foundation on animal and plant products that are used for treatment."
Technological revolution in the 19th and 20th centuries took the focus on finding cures away from nature as pharmaceutical companies relied on technical components to make medicines, he said.
These companies are increasingly turning back to nature as they run out of chemical compounds.
But the world is "losing the intellectual patents of nature before we even have the chance to understand or unravel them," Steiner said. "This is the tragedy of not understanding biodiversity."