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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 01:32 GMT
World seeks biodiversity accord
By Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysian tree ferns   L A Bruijnzeel
Environmentalists fear some habitats could disappear (Image: L A Bruijnzeel)
Environment ministers from around the world meet in Malaysia on Wednesday to try to reach a deal to save threatened habitats and species.

Discussions at the UN-led conference are likely to centre on attempts to reduce loss of biodiversity by 2010.

However, both the European Union and environmentalists say the discussions lack the sense of urgency they believe is necessary.

The horse-trading over protecting the environment is about to begin.

Though countries rich and poor alike say they want to save the planet, all have their own concerns - and most of those centre on money.

Habitats v capital

The developing nations say they want a bigger share in the benefits of protecting the environment.

Between them they have most of the world's remaining pristine habitats, but saving them costs money they do not have.

Nor do they want big business to develop products derived from flora and fauna found there without receiving some of their profits.

Equally, wealthier nations do not want to leave their companies open to endless legal action over their discoveries, nor do they want to simply hand the countries of the South a blank cheque to pay for their help.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are concerned that the entire process could be derailed - not least the task of setting firm targets and timetables for slowing the rate at which plants and animals are becoming extinct.

Both they and the EU Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, believe that many of the delegates are unaware just how imminent the threat to life on earth is.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent
"Some fear it could be too little too late"

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