Since their appearance on Earth, humans have developed by using plants and animals for food, clothing, residences, medicines and other purposes. Ecosystems are the basis of human existence. This basic fact does not change no matter how much industrial civilizations may progress. An important measure of the health of ecosystems is the variety of organisms living in them — a quality known as biodiversity.

In 1992, the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro produced the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD seeks to achieve three main objectives — preservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biological resources, and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources among parties concerned. A big weak point of the CBD is that the United States is not a party to it. Japan and other countries should make serious efforts to get the U.S. to join.

From Oct. 18 to 29, representatives from 192 countries and the European Union, which are parties to the CBD, are attending the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the CBD in Nagoya. They are reviewing what has happened to systems’ biodiversity during the past decade and forging strategies and rules for the next 10 years to protect global ecosystems and make sure there is sustainable use of biological resources.

Environmental and other high-ranking ministers will appear during the conference’s last three days. Given the importance of biodiversity for human existence, the outcome of the conference could greatly affect the future of the human race. Unfortunately, Japan’s government has not done enough to rouse people’s interest in the importance of biodiversity and in COP10.

It is strongly hoped that COP10 participants will not replay the debacle of the UNFCCC COP15 held in Copenhagen in December 2009 — when there was a failure to produce a meaningful agreement. It also should not be forgotten that climate change and biodiversity are closely linked. Global warming, along with development, is a major cause of biodiversity loss

Under a target set by the CBD COP6 held in the Hague in April 2002, the world’s governments were required “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”

But this target has not been met and the outlook for biodiversity systems around the world is getting worse. The abundance of all species declined by 40 percent between 1970 and 2000. It is said that some 40,000 species become extinct annually. The abundance of vertebrate species fell by nearly one-third on average between 1970 and 2006, and continues to fall globally. Nearly a quarter of plant species face extinction.

Each year 13 million hectares of the world’s forests are lost due to deforestation. Such natural habitats as freshwater wetlands, sea-ice habitats, salt marshes and coral reefs in most parts of the world continue to decline in extent and integrity. In order to stop biodiversity loss, it is imperative that COP10 set a new target expressed in precise terms and work out a mechanism that enforces protection of biological systems within which various species live.

COP10 was preceded by the fifth conference of the members of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (MOP5), also in Nagoya, from Oct. 11 to 15. MOP5 agreed, after six years of negotiations, to a supplementary protocol — called the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability on Redress — to the Cartagena Protocol, which is administered by the CBD and has 160 parties. The new protocol includes rules that allow importing countries to call on operators who bring in damage-causing genetically modified organisms to take necessary restorative measures.

It is hoped that the agreement will give momentum to COP10, which is expected to face difficulties as it advances. Developed and developing countries are expected to clash with each other over how to share benefits from the use of genetic resources. This is an important issue at COP10 along with the issue of how to enable sustainable use of biological resources.

Companies in developed countries have created medicines and foods using genetic resources, earning large profits through their sales. But these resources are mainly from micro-organisms, animals and plants that live in rain forests and other places in developing countries. These countries demand that a greater portion of the profits generated in developed countries be returned to them. But developed countries are not very responsive, citing the huge research and development costs.

The role of Japan is extremely important because it chairs COP10. Prime Minister Naoto Kan failed to show strong leadership with respect to COP10 when he spoke at the U.N. General Assembly. And he did not show up at COP10’s working committee meeting held in Montreal. Japan should demonstrate a strong determination to make COP10 a success.

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