UN Treaty Key Tool in Conserving Ecosystems

United Nations – In a bid to pressure policymakers to take urgent action to implement a major United Nations treaty on the preservation of plant and animal species, the world body has launched a global campaign to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity.

“Biodiversity is our life,” said Veerle Vandeweerd, the U.N. Development Programme’s energy and environment director, at a news conference to promote the campaign declaring 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.

Like other development experts, Vandeweerd said that actions to reduce poverty and fight climate change would bear no fruit if the implementation of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity remained slow.

Rural communities in many parts of the world are “suffering due to the loss of biodiversity,” she said, noting that biodiversity and ecosystem services are vital for the survival of rural poor and indigenous populations.

Scientific literature suggests that almost 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth, such as fresh water, pollination, and the regulation of regional climate and pests, are being undermined as a result of human activity.

The treaty on biodiversity calls for substantial actions to reverse losses in plant and animal species by 2010. It also seeks sustainable use of natural resources and benefit-sharing arising from the use of genetic resources.

According to scientists, over the past 50 years, species have disappeared a thousand times faster than the natural rate. That has happened as a result of increasing demand for resources. Unlike climate change, however, this issue has yet to gain close attention.

U.N. officials have repeatedly said that, despite some progress, policymakers around the world have not only largely failed to deliver on the issue of biodiversity preservation, but also lack a proper understanding of the significance of this issue.

On Wednesday, at a meeting held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the failure to protect biodiversity “a wake-up call.” In his words, “Business as usual is not an option.”

“We need a new biodiversity vision,” he told the meeting attended by scores of scientists, U.N. experts on biodiversity, and development experts. “We must ensure the long-term viability of our seas and oceans.”

Ban’s remarks indicate that U.N. development experts are becoming increasingly convinced that achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be unlikely without corresponding efforts to fight climate change and biodiversity.

The MDGs include a 50-percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other deadly diseases, all by 2015.

Experts say the effective implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity could lead to meaningful results in achieving sustainable development worldwide. That is something that is quite obvious in Ban’s take on biodiversity issue.

“We must manage our forest sustainability,” Ban added in explaining to the audience about the need for “new vision” on biodiversity preservation. “We must preserve coral reefs so they can continue to protect coasts from storms and support livelihoods,” he said.

Vandeweerd argues that preserving biodiversity is not merely an issue of preserving other species, but that it would bring prosperity to hundreds of millions of people who live close proximity to the plant and animal world.

“The biodiversity is about economy. About three-fourth of the world population depends on it,” she said, suggesting that meaningful actions to protect biodiversity on land and in the oceans could help millions to survive without fear of hunger and disease.

But, for many governments, it is a tough task because private concerns grabbing up indigenous-managed and other undeveloped lands are very powerful. The U.N. treaty calls for a “fair” and “equitable” share of benefits for the use of indigenous resources by business interests.

The signatories to the treaty have yet to resolve many questions on this subject. Meanwhile, the U.N. General Assembly is due to call a “special high-level meeting” this year on the issue of biodiversity.

“It will give the international community an opportunity to demonstrate much-needed opportunity in advance of the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit,” said Ban in reference to the next treaty conference, which is due in Japan later this year to lay out a new agenda on how to implement the treaty in an effective and meaningful way.

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