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ENVIRONMENT: Stepping Beyond Carbon Footprints

Ramesh Jaura* - IPS/Terraviva

BARCELONA, Oct 8 2008 (IPS) - Do those 8,000 tonnes of carbon footprints arising from participation in the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona show the way beyond Kyoto? Will the marathon congregation significantly reduce biodiversity loss and halt creeping desertification?

These are not the questions uppermost on the minds of some 8,000 participants from around the world. Theirs is not to debate the status of the three UN conventions – on climate change, biodiversity and combating desertification – flowing from the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992.

The 'Rio conventions' are inter-governmental, but this congress is the "world's only democratic environmental forum where more than 1,000 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) members, both states and non-governmental organisations, define the conservation agenda for the years ahead," Mario Lague, head of the organisation's global communications, told IPS/Terraviva.

The carbon footprints are being offset by sponsoring the project of an Egyptian company handling organic compost, Lague said.

IUCN director-general Julia Morton-Lefèvre voices her views on new President, private sector and political leadership

He pointed out that members of the royalty, heads of state, Nobel laureates, and scientists and philanthropists working with environmental, business and indigenous leaders were "defining the best ways to tackle environmental and development challenges, sharing pragmatic solutions to pressing issues such as over-fishing, food security and rising energy demand."

Climate change is already affecting people and nature, and there is an urgent need to reach an international agreement by 2009. The first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol will end in 2012.

Named after the Japanese city where it was adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005. It contains binding emission reduction targets for 37 industrialised countries and the European Union.

Jointly, their emission of greenhouse gases, so called because they are believed to cause global warming, should be reduced by at least 5 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels. Apart from the United States, all industrialised countries party to the climate change convention (UNFCCC) have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

At the Bali summit last December the negotiations on post-Kyoto commitments hit a deadlock, crystallising the debate on the issue of North-South equity. The developing nations insisted on the core principle of "common but differentiated responsibility", calling upon the industrialised countries to fulfil their obligations.

Lague said IUCN was launching a new partnership with the Italian Cooperation ministry, the Foundation of the Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, ENDA Senegal (Environmental Development Action in the Third World) and Climate Action Network France to help the North-South dialogue and build capacities of developing countries to influence negotiations on climate change.

With this in view, a series of regional seminars have been organised, including one in Bamako, Mali, which took place in May. Other seminars are planned in Asia and Latin America next year, leading to the critical negotiations in Copenhagen in December next year.

The IUCN meeting is taking several critical issues on board. IUCN director-general Julia Morton-Lefèvre said at the congress: "Biodiversity and ecosystems are our best allies in the face of climate change for mitigation and adaptation. Forests capture and store carbon, and provide local people with livelihoods. They are also vital to preserve species."

Thirty-five percent of the world's birds, 52 percent of amphibians and 71 percent of warm-water reef-building corals are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change, the first results of an IUCN study have revealed.

IUCN is of the view that mitigation targets are urgently needed to reduce emissions worldwide by at least 50 percent by 2050 to limit global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade compared with pre-industrial levels. But these targets need to be coupled with effective measures for technology transfer and adaptation for developing countries.

IUCN is asking for the UNFCCC negotiation process to allow more equitable participation from all stakeholders, including women, indigenous communities and representatives from developing countries.

"This new partnership will facilitate the emergence of a more equitable dialogue between developed and developing countries, mobilising our complementary networks on climate change, biodiversity and livelihoods, with the ultimate goal of reaching an effective and equitable agreement by 2009," says an IUCN background paper.

The Barcelona congress has also served as platform for a multitude of events and media briefings on a series of issues related to climate change and biodiversity.

Executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Ahmed Djoghlaf called at the world conservation congress this week for joint efforts to integrate biodiversity and climate change policies. "Eighty-four percent of national biodiversity strategies and action plans contain no strategic objectives or activities related to climate change adaptation," he said.

He said the CBD regrets that implementation of the global biodiversity conventions still receives low priority, evident from the fact that some countries are still not a party to some of the important biodiversity related conventions.

"Though the funds for biodiversity conservation programmes are on the increase in development cooperation of the developed countries like USA and Germany, as well as at the national level, the amount of funding needs to be enhanced if we are to save biodiversity by 2010," notes a background paper.

A report presented Wednesday by Sebastian Winkler, head of Countdown 2010, said that the G8 countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States) and the five emerging economies (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) showed "medium to low" performance in achieving the 2010 biodiversity target.

"Countries are not doing enough. We need to once more remind governments of the necessary actions to be taken to reach the target," said Gordon Shepherd of WWF International. "Increased cooperation is a key to stop global threats such as the illegal trading of biodiversity components. Asian countries are the most affected."

There may indeed be something to look for beyond carbon footprints.

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