Tue, May 20, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Almost 200 countries attend biodiversity conference

MEETING THE CHALLENGE With rising food prices sparking violent protests in some countries, one official stressed the need for agricultural diversity of crops

AP , FRANKFURT, GERMANY

A two-week conference aimed at ensuring the survival of global biodiversity in the face of climate change and pollution got under way in Germany yesterday.

The protection of flora, fauna and even food sources will be on the agenda of the 191 governments attending the ninth conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn.

Officials will also review the goals set in 2002 at the UN.

Earth Summit, which called for slowing the loss of biological diversity by 2010 — a target that critics contend is far out of reach given a growing human population, rising levels of pollution and climate change.

Organizers also hope the conference will help find new ways to ease the rapid rise in food costs, which has sparked violent protests in Haiti and Egypt. There is also concern that unrest could take place elsewhere amid profiteering and hoarding.

Food prices have been driven to record highs recently by a variety of factors, including a spike in the cost of petroleum products, including those used in fertilizers and processing.

There has also been an increase in the price of grain, which is used to produce biofuels and given as food to livestock to satisfy a growing demand for meat in developing countries. The price of rice has more than tripled since January.

“Renewing agricultural diversity of crops and livestock backed by a functional natural support system is the international community’s best long-term solution to meet the global food challenge,” Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said before the conference.

He said that while the meeting would focus on a number of issues, including global deforestation and slumping wildlife populations, the fact that prices for wheat, corn and rice are at record highs while food stocks are at historic lows provides a dismal backdrop.

“Agriculture is considered a prime example of how human activities profoundly impact the ecological functioning of the planet,” Djoghlaf said in a statement. “During the past 50 years, humans have altered ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any other period in human history. Indeed, more land was converted to cropland during the last 50 years than in the previous two centuries.”

The financial losses of distinct land and species has been projected to be approximately 2 trillion euros (US$3.1 trillion), or about 6 percent of the entire world’s GNP, German weekly Der Spiegel reported yesterday.

Among strategies to crimp those losses is to refocus on reforestation worldwide. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to increase her country’s funding to augment those efforts.

German Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel told lawmakers earlier this month that the loss of biodiversity signaled a severe economic threat that was on par with climate change.

He said that “effective measures” had to emerge from the Bonn meeting if real progress was to be made.

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