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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Greens slam biodiversity 'shambles'
Logs, PA
Conservationists are concerned about illegal logging
A programme aimed at protecting the future of the world's forests has been agreed by representatives of developing and industrialised countries.

But the compromise deal, struck at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in The Hague, Netherlands, has been dismissed by environmental groups as little more than the setting up of yet another "talking shop".

There has been absolutely no political willpower to do anything other than to weaken this Convention

Joy Hyvarinen, RSPB
The groups have been scathing in their condemnation of what they regard as a "shambolic meeting".

The UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Europe's largest conservation organisation, said environment ministers should have taken a stronger line with their "bickering bureaucrats".

"Nature's taken an incredible beating over the past 10 years, and an almost greater one in the last two weeks," Joy Hyvarinen, the RSPBīs advisor on international treaties, said.

"There has been absolutely no political willpower to do anything other than to weaken this Convention."

Illegal logging

It is now 10 years since the world's governments committed themselves to tackle the threat to the variety of life on Earth posed by human activities.

However, the convention set up at the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil, has so far achieved little more than debates about institutions and procedures. In the meantime, some scientists say, forests and other ecosystems have been declining at an alarming rate.

This week's meeting at The Hague was supposed to turn the corner and produce a concrete plan of action.

After much wrangling, the delegates did agree a programme to address deforestation - issues such as illegal logging - but at this stage this just involves the setting up of an international working group to look at the problems.

The arguments have been over what exactly the working group's remit should be.

Royalty payments

Environmentalists say the results of this 10-year process amount to the creation of a new bureaucracy on forests, and little else.

They have been particularly critical of Canada, Brazil and Malaysia, who they said spent two weeks at The Hague "watering down the action programme and blocking progress and failing to reverse forest loss and tackle illegal logging".

Brenda Ramsey from Greenpeace said: "Environment ministers came to The Hague to decide the fate of the world's last ancient forests and could have made history... We are left only with minor steps that fail to match the scale of the crisis.

"Governments will not be able to justify this to future generations who will inherit the results of their failure."

There has, however, been more optimism about the impact of an agreement, made earlier in the week, to ensure that developing countries share in the benefits of products developed by pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies from plants and animals in their forests.

Issues linked

The meeting put in place guidelines to ensure companies were only given access to the countries' bio-resources if they agreed to hand over a share of any profits or pay royalties.

However, Greenpeace said the agreement would mean nothing if forests did not receive better protection.

"Greenpeace believes that any agreement to stop bio-piracy will be insufficient if the resources to be shared are disappearing," the organisation said.

"Most of the biodiversity on the planet is found in the last ancient forests, which are still not protected."

See also:

17 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
UN moves to curb bio-piracy
03 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Forest survey shows big holes
29 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Illegal logging spreads in Russia
20 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
UN call to save key forests
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