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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 02:31 GMT 03:31 UK
Wildlife protection under review
Tiger in forest
The destruction of ancient forests depletes habitat for wildlife
More than 2,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries are discussing ways of protecting the world's plants and animals at a conference in The Hague, Holland.

The Sixth United Nations Conference on Biodiversity opened on Sunday amid calls for countries to devote more political energy and financial resources to the problem.

Among the issues being discussed during the two-week forum is how to encourage governments to halt the destruction of forests around the world.

Delegates are also expected to decide how the world should share in the profits offered by genes found in different plants which are used as the basis for new drugs and other products.

This is especially important for countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, where there are thousands of species with the potential to yield new drugs or materials, but where the resources to exploit those species are lacking.

Genetic resources

The conference hopes to build on the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed 10 years ago at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil.

Under this agreement, which came into effect in 1993, signatories committed themselves to the "sustainable" use of the planet's wildlife.

Forest, BBC
Each year 1% of the world's rainforest is destroyed
But correspondents say that with billions of dollars at stake, defining sustainability and enforcing it has proved highly controversial.

At The Hague, the UN Environment Program (Unep) hopes the first-ever guidelines on sharing the world's biological and genetic resources will be adopted.

The idea is that companies and organisations could gain worldwide access to genetic resources - such as plants for producing new drugs - in return for a share of the profits going to the country of origin.

Disappearing forests

Deforestation is another controversial issue that delegates are due to tackle at the conference.

Governments are expected to be encouraged to provide stronger economic incentives for companies to find more sustainable alternatives to logging old forests.

According to UN estimates, 1% of tropical forest disappeared each year throughout the 1980s - a 50% increase over the previous decade.

Correspondents say the conclusions reached at the conference will be an important part of the sustainability summit which is due to be held in September in Johannesburg.

The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Making the decision a reality will be tough"
See also:

03 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Forest survey shows big holes
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Earth summit: Decade of failure
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