Biodiversity, Environment, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

SOUTH AMERICA: Rich in Biodiversity, Lagging in Protection

Milagros Salazar

LIMA, May 20 2009 (IPS) - South America is the only region that has not submitted a report of its actions in the last year to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity, although it accounts for 40 percent of the world’s plant and animal species and the deadline was Mar. 30.

"These reports are very important in order to combat threats against biodiversity," David Cooper, Programme Officer at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) told IPS, referring to the fourth annual report, which none of the 12 countries of South America have presented.

Without their reports, there is no record of the actions, strategies and progress they have made toward the protection of biodiversity, which holds up regional progress on the issue, the experts complained.

Cooper and more than 30 representatives of South American governments, environmental groups and other other civil society organisations are in Lima participating in a high-level meeting to assess the region's progress and interests in relation to the CBD's 2010 biodiversity target to significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level.

The two-day meeting at the headquarters of the Andean Community trade bloc ended Wednesday with a declaration on progress and limitations in reaching the target, and a list of priorities for action as the 2010 deadline looms.

The CBD, approved in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the foremost instrument for stemming the loss of biological diversity and ensuring equitable and sustainable access to the resources and benefits of that wealth.

To promote compliance with the Convention, the Countdown 2010 Initiative was created within the scope of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in 2004 for Europe and in 2007 for Latin America.

There are 150 partners in the initiative, including government representatives, private companies and organisations around the world committed to curbing the loss of biodiversity.

"Biodiversity is a local issue for each country, but we share a common responsibility," Sebastian Winkler, the head of the Countdown 2010 Initiative and an adviser on European policy, told IPS.

"But as a region, Latin Ameria has not lived up to the commitments made in signing the Convention because so far, the countries have not reported on their national strategies, unlike Africa, for example," he said.

Winkler stressed that the countries of Latin America must make an effort to "monitor the present state of biodiversity and play a more active part in international processes."

South America not only possesses 40 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, but also 25 percent of the forests and 26 percent of the fresh water sources. This vast natural wealth has also made it one of the most vulnerable regions.

Among the main threats that were pointed out at the Lima meeting were the impact of climate change which causes animal and plant species to die out, the uncontrolled extraction of natural resources and the modification of land use in the Amazon – that is, the expansion of areas devoted to agriculture and other productive activities to the detriment of the jungle.

"The earth is being trampled on," said Norberto Ovando, an Argentine expert on protected areas in his country.

Statistics on damage to biodiversity worldwide are worrying. According to the IUCN's Red List, last updated in 2008, there are 16,928 species threatened with extinction, equivalent to 38 percent of the species catalogued. Thirty-six million hectares of pristine forests have been lost every year since 2000.

José Javier Gómez, an environmental affairs official at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS that "governments have not made efforts to preserve protected natural areas," and that this is one of the main flaws in the implementation of the Convention.

The Andean Community, made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, has encouraged countries to create a regional policy to make progress on their commitments, although those involved have admitted that they will not be able to meet the target.

"It's true that the 2010 target will not be met; the goal was very ambitious and countries have tried to fulfil about 60 percent of it," said Mariela Cánepa, in charge of biodiversity issues at the Andean Community Secretariat.

"But there is no certainty, because there is no indicator to measure progress. No baseline was ever established, or a diagnosis to determine where we were and where we are now," she told IPS.

Cánepa added that countries have made progress mainly at the legislative level, but the policies that have been designed have not begun to be implemented, mainly because of the weakness of environment ministries, which receive limited funds, and because a cross-cutting biodiversity policy involving all parties has not been designed.

On Tuesday, the first day of the Lima meeting, a review of progress was carried out, which was far from encouraging, and preliminary priorities for 2010 were proposed. Among these were strengthening alliances between government and civil society representatives, defining indicators to measure progress on the commitments, and enlisting the private sector in the defence of biodiversity.

Another proposal was to create communication strategies to spread simple, non-technical information, in order to involve the public in this global problem.

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