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Nature protection - the new road starts here

Richard Black | 20:34 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

From the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya:

Was it an end, or a beginning?

As delegates streamed away from the convention centre here in Nagoya - and stream they did, many of them having delayed flights to make sure no stone they could turn was left unturned - the talk was of a good agreement that now demanded implementation.

The 20 draft targets that were on the table at the beginning of the meeting all survived, in some form, in the final agreement.

Conservation scientists would have liked tougher targets on protection - 25% rather than 17% of the Earth's land surface, 15% at least of the oceans rather than 10%.

They'd also have liked a firm commitment to stopping biodiversity loss.

But the point had been well made through this year that degradation of nature would not stop simply by decreeing that it should.

If you want to stop biodiversity loss through the expansion of farming, you have to tackle farming. Likewise climate change, pollution, invasive species... etc.

That was the philosophy; and it, too, survived into the final analysis.

Perhaps the most fundamental component of the agreement here is that governments have pledged that "by 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed".

Meanwhile, biodiversity values will by the same date be in the process of being "incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems".

The challenges in fuflilling the first of these, especially, is formidable.

Of course, the language in both could be tougher; those two words "as appropriate" are capable of many interpretations.

But put this alongside pledges to manage areas under agriculture and forestry sustainably, and to ensure fisheries have no impact on vulnerable ecosystems or threatened species, and you begin to see the teeth these agreement could have, if fully implemented.

For that, money is needed - in huge amounts - tens of billions of dollars per year, according to some estimates, with developing countries asking for even more.

The British and French environment ministers here assured me it could be done. So did economists who've been working on the issue for years.

But will it be? When economic reform is in the air, it's not just environment ministries that notice the aroma.

Which is why for many, the agreement reached here is just a beginning.

The process of persuasion inside governments and across industry starts now... or at least, after the weekend.

Many of those exiting Nagoya will spend that sleeping, through desire or sheer need.

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