NGOs attack EU biodiversity failures

EU record criticised as global biodiversity meeting begins; biosafety protocol moves closer

NGOs have criticised the EU's record of protecting important wildlife habitats at the start of a two-week meeting of parties to the UN Biodiversity convention in Bratislava, Slovakia. Delegates from 180 countries are due to review the first reports from governments on national actions to safeguard biodiversity, alongside discussions on protecting specific habitats. Inland water ecosystems are the special theme of this year's meeting.

Environmental groups attending the meeting have stressed that the EU is in a "poor position to preach conservation" to other world regions. Brussels-based Birdlife International has distributed a list of key wildlife sites in eight EU countries that it says are being destroyed by EU sectoral policies on agriculture, transport, and regional development. At the same time, the group says, EU funds for nature conservation are "inadequate and poorly coordinated".

It also points to countries' poor record of implementation of two key EU directives to protect birds and habitats. In the last year, most member states have received legal warnings from the European Commission for failing to comply with aspects of the laws (ENDS Daily 15 April). The group further warned of possible "disastrous" effects on the "rich wildlife" of central and eastern European countries unless biodiversity protection is made a firm part of EU enlargement policy.

The Bratislava conference is the fourth meeting of parties since the convention's adoption at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The convention has now been ratified by 171 countries. Executive director of the UN Environment Programme Klaus Töpfer yesterday stressed the significance of the convention's triple objectives of ensuring biodiversity protection, sustainable use of genetic resources and equitable sharing of benefits from their use.

According to UNEP, 3,000 plants and animal species are currently in danger of extinction. It estimates that 40% of the world's economic activity is directly derived from biological diversity. "Competition over dwindling biological resources threatens to become a major source of national and international strife in the decades ahead," Mr Töpfer warned.

The Bratislava meeting is expected to set a deadline for finalisation of a first protocol under the convention, which will make international rules on the safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A draft text was drawn up by experts at a meeting in February but controversial issues such as guidelines on allocating liability and compensation for damage caused by the release of GMOs have yet to be resolved.

Follow Up:
UN Environment Programme, tel: + 41 22 917 8242; Birdlife International, tel: +32 2 280 0830.

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