Senior officials from 182 countries are meeting in The Hague April 7-19 to discuss ways to strengthen global cooperation in protecting the diversity of the earth's biological treasures.
Biological diversity represents every form of life, from the smallest microbe to the largest animal, and the ecosystems they form. Biodiversity makes earth habitable and provides humans with food, medicines, clothing, fiber and genes that help fight pests and diseases. The United Nations estimates that 40 percent of the world economy depends directly on biodiversity.
In 1992, under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program, governments adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity - a plan for reversing the tide of destruction of the natural world. Every two years since then, governments have met to work on putting the plan into action.
Hamdallah Zedan is the Convention's secretary. He says a stepped up war against invasive or alien species is one of the top priorities at the two-week meeting.
Zedan: "The alien invasive species are considered, after land degradation, the second major threat to biological diversity."
Skirble: "There has been a lot of talk about invasive species coming in with the ballast water of ships. So, would this mean that certain rules would be placed on international commerce?"
Zedan: "Yes, but these will only be guidelines to assist in reducing these impacts [of invasive species]."
Skirble: "So how would you get governments to agree on the rules and go about enforcing them."
Zedan: "The governments would first have to agree on these guidelines, and they are requested to implement the guidelines and report back to the Conference of the Parties to see whether there will be a need for any changes in this approach."
Hamdallah Zedan hopes for the adoption of guidelines on such matters as border controls, quarantine measures, intentional introduction of invasive species for agriculture and the eradication, control and containment of unwanted species. He says they are a necessary first step in the prevention of bio-invasions on a global scale.
Mr. Zedan also expects the Convention to agree on rules for access to genetic resources such as plants used to produce pharmaceuticals or fragrances. The measures would recognize for the first time the right of a country to benefit from the exploitation of its genetic resources. Mr. Zedan says the work is complex and brings up a number of contentious legal and ethical issues.
Zedan: "...the whole issue of the use of the indigenous and local knowledge, the whole issue of the need to disclose the country of origin of genetic resources and application for intellectual property rights. All of these are issues that still need further clarification."
Skirble: "Another priority on your list is the world's forests. What measures will be discussed at The Hague, and what are you hoping to come out with?"
Zedan: "More than 70 percent of the world's biological diversity is found in forests, and if we succeed in reducing the degradation of forests this will be a major success this is number one. Number two is the forest in fact provides a very important link between climate change and biological diversity."
Natural forests, planted forests and reforestation are all considered means for mitigating climate change. Hamdallah Zedan says the Convention will also address ways to both conserve forests and use them in sustainable ways.
"This requires that we look at the whole issue in a broader social economic context, not only on conservation because there are hundreds and millions of people who are making their livelihoods from forests, and if this is not taken into consideration then I don't think that we are going anywhere," he said.
Hamdallah Zedan says the success of the Convention on Biological Diversity depends on several factors including increased public awareness, greater financial assistance for developing countries, and a stronger commitment from all nations to implement the agreements. The meeting in The Hague will continue through April 19.