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Negotiators Agree on Biodiversity Pact in Nagoya

Delegates from 179 countries meeting at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, agreed to "take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity" to try to ensure the resilience of ecosystems by 2020. They also adopted agreements to generate financing to support these efforts and to share the proceeds of the commercialization of genetic materials with the countries of origin.

"It's a pretty good deal," says James Leape, director general of the conservation organization WWF.

The agreements adopted at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the 1992 CBD took years of preparatory work, 2 weeks of negotiations in Nagoya, and a final plenary session that ran past 2 a.m. local time on 30 October.

In addition to calling for urgent action on biodiversity loss, the strategic plan sets 20 specific targets to achieve by 2020. Key targets include conserving in protected zones at least 17% of the world's terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas, halving the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and preventing the extinction of known threatened species.

Other targets call for eliminating subsidies harmful to biodiversity, managing fisheries sustainably, and minimizing anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs.

Conservationists had wanted 20% of terrestrial areas to be protected and had hoped protection would be extended to the high seas. But WWF's Leape calls the adopted targets "a big step forward." Countries largely missed targets to stem biodiversity loss set for 2010. To avoid another failure, the strategic plan calls for countries to describe to the convention national plans to achieve targets and to report progress. "This will allow for corrective action in a timely way," says John Fitzgerald, policy director for the Society for Conservation Biology in Washington, D.C.

Negotiators also agreed to increase funding to support the efforts of the strategic plan, though specific targets for percentages or amounts are to be worked out by the time of the COP 11 meeting, scheduled for 2012 in New Delhi, India.

The third key agreement is a new protocol to ensure that benefits flow back to countries and indigenous peoples who supply genetic resources that are commercialized. Developing countries had wanted the provisions of the access and benefit-sharing protocol to apply retroactively. They had also hoped for the agreement to specifically assign responsibility for tracking the use of genetic materials to patent offices, research universities, scientific journals, and other "checkpoints." Retroactivity was stripped from the final text, though the agreement now calls for the investigation of a "global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism" to address cases where plant or animal resources were commercialized prior to the new agreement. And how to enforce compliance will be left up to each country. "It is not the text we would write ourselves, but it is a good compromise," says Paulino Franco de Carvalho, head of the Brazilian delegation.

Among other business, delegates agreed to call for a moratorium on geoengineering schemes and to endorse a request to the United Nations General Assembly to create an Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that would produce scientific assessments on biodiversity issues much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change works on the science of climate change. "We're quite excited about this, it's really needed," says Thomas Elmqvist, an ecologist at Stockholm University and a member of the Swedish delegation.