'Catholics must support UN deal to halt wildlife collapse'

The US Catholic Church and other US churches must lobby their government to sign up to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. This was the call from Columban eco-theologian  Fr Sean McDonagh after the UN biodiversity meeting in Japan - held in the central Japanese city of Nagoya - ended last weekend with an agreement on a ten-year plan to preserve nature. The author of ‘The Death of Life’, a 2004 book examining a Christian response to diminishing biodiversity, also called for the Catholic Church “to develop a viable theology of creation” and “a moral code to cope with ecocide”.

The last minute deal at the UN Convention on Biodiversity on Saturday set out 20 goals to be implemented over the next ten years to help tackle the mass extinction of species around the world. They include increasing the area of protected land in the world from 12.5% to 17%, and the area of protected oceans from 1% to 10%, by 2020. Talks had been going on at the Convention for two weeks before the agreement was made.

The new treaty, a Protocol to the main convention called the Nagoya Protocol, lays down  ground rules on how nations must cooperate in obtaining genetic resources from animals to plants and fungi. It also outlines how the benefits, arising for example when a plant’s genetics are turned into a commercial product such as a pharmaceutical, are shared with the countries and communities who have conserved and managed that resource often for millennia. Developing nations have long complained of
exploitation by richer nations, and have been imposing stringent export controls on such material. The accord is potentially worth billions of dollars to countries rich in biological diversity. The talks were closely followed by the Columban Missionary Society, which has members working in Japan and which has been running a campaign against the patenting of living genetic resources.

The Nagoya Protocol sets a goal of cutting the current extinction rate by half or more by 2020, recognising that climate change and loss of habitat are key reasons for the loss. The earth is  losing species at 100 to 1,000 times the historical average, according to scientists who call the current period the worst since the dinosaurs were lost 65 million years ago. They also agreed to take a ‘precautionary approach’ in emerging areas such as geo-engineering in order to combat climate change and the development of synthetic biofuels.

Participants acknowledged the hurdles to getting the agreement translated into action — among other things, the United States has not ratified the   United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, the underlying treaty and therefore is not bound by the Nagoya Protocol. A mechanism was agreed on to assist developing nations to raise the necessary funds which could be hundreds of millions to billions of dollars each year.  They have until 2012 to raise the needed funds when Brazil will host the next conference.

See: www.cbd.int/