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Biodiversity

“Bonn Mandate” after years of grid-lock

by Meike Scholz
It was quite a struggle but, in the end, the participants in the 9th UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Bonn proudly presented the "Bonn Biodiversity Compact". After 16 years of deadlock, new agreements were reached.

The roadmap for a so-called access and benefit sharing (ABS) regime was a particular source of pride. The aim is to establish fair rules on compensation for access to and utilisation of genetic resources. In the past, this issue was always one of the most controversial ones in negotiations between industrial and developing countries. Now, under the "Bonn Mandate", binding international rules will be hammered out over the next two years, finally putting an end to "biopiracy". Industrial countries using poorer countries' biological resources will have to pay for doing so.

The conference in Bonn also marked the official launch of the "Life Web" initiative. However, its goal of raising more money for new and existing forest reserves was only partially realised. Germany’s Federal Government promised to make an additional € 500 million available for international forest and biodiversity protection from 2009 to 2012. From 2013 on, it will even commit that sum annually. "It is an investment in the future for us all," Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Bonn – and her words drew loud applause. Apart from Germany, only Norway has so far made substantial pledges.

Another issue addressed was marine conservation. For the first time, participants in the Biodiversity Convention agreed on criteria for sanctuaries on the high seas to protect marine life. They also voted against artificial "fertilisation" of the oceans, which had originally been proposed as a means of accelerating the growth of carbon-fixing plankton and, as a result, reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere. However, after urgent warnings of unpredictable consequences, a moratorium was decided.

On the issue of biofuels, the delegates proved less willing to compromise. The only agreement reached here was to develop energy-crop growing guidelines at regional level. All further discussion was shelved until the next Conference of Parties.

Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul was pleased with what the conference achieved, describing the agreement on action against biopiracy as a "real step forward". In view of the stonewalling stance of certain countries, the minister said, it was an unexpected outcome. But many NGO representatives were less ecstatic. According to Michael Frein of Protestant Church Development Service (EED), for example, no progress was made from the point of view of the victims of biopiracy. WWF described the results of the Bonn conference as totally unsatisfactory. The nature conservation expert of the German section, Jörg Roos, complained that the international community is moving at a "snail's pace". The goal of significantly slowing the loss of biological diversity by 2010, he said, is now virtually unattainable. Achim Steiner, director of the UN environment agency UNEP was less skeptical. In his view, the most important outcome of the conference is the heightened international focus on the protection of biological diversity (also note interview with the mayor of Caritiba, page 304). (sz)