Forest, Wildlife Protection Pledged at World Conservation Congress
BARCELONA, Spain, October 14, 2008 (ENS) - The cost of biodiversity loss is greater than that of the world's current financial problems and in many cases, the loss of species is irreparable, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature today at the close of its 10 day World Conservation Congress.

"We're showing how saving nature must be an integral part of the solution for any world crisis," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre. ""The clear message coming out of this meeting is that biodiversity underpins the well-being of human societies and their economies."

"But conservation can only succeed if we attack the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, and action is taken at the same time to reduce the impacts of that loss," she said.

"The tide is turning in our favor, we have the scientific knowledge and we have the governmental willpower to put the solutions in place," said IUCN's new President Ashok Khosla of India, who will preside until the next Congress is held in 2012.

Ashok Khosla was elected IUCN president for a four year term. (Photo courtesy IUCN)

Khosla is chairman of Delhi-based Development Alternatives, a social enterprise devoted to promoting commercially viable, environmentally friendly technologies for rural communities in the global South. He was earlier a director in the United Nations Environment Programme.

"Given its critical role in maintaining life - and the systems that support life - conservation of biodiversity now needs at least the same level of attention that other global environmental issues have garnered," said Khosla.

There was celebration at the Congress as four Indonesian ministers, 10 provincial governors and the global conservation organization WWF announced a commitment to protect the remaining forests and critical ecosystems of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The commitment is the first to protect the world's sixth largest island and one of its environmental hotspots. Sumatra is the only place where tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinos co-exist, but all are under threat as are the island's indigenous peoples. Deforestation and forest conversion for palm oil and acacia plantations in lowland deep peat forests is a major contributor to global carbon emissions.

"This agreement commits all the governors of Sumatra's 10 provinces, along with the Indonesian ministries of forestry, environment, interior and public works, to restore critical ecosystems in Sumatra and protect areas with high conservation values," said Hermien Roosita, Indonesia's deputy minister of environment.

The island has lost 48 percent of its natural forest cover since 1985. More than 13 percent of Sumatra's remaining forests are peat forests, sitting over the deepest peat soils in the world. These soils degrade when cleared and drained, emitting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Mubariq Ahmad, CEO of WWF-Indonesia (Photo courtesy IUCN)

"WWF is eager to help make this commitment a reality to protect the magnificent tropical forests across Sumatra. These forests shelter some of the world's rarest species and provide livelihoods for millions of people," said Mubariq Ahmad, CEO of WWF-Indonesia.

A surprise victory came on Monday evening when key fishing state Spain and key tuna market state Japan joined with a majority of other countries to back closing the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery until it can be brought under control and establishing protected areas in the main bluefin breeding grounds.

The motion that was approved calls for catch quotas to be nearly halved in line with scientific advice and for permanent fishing bans for the spawning season in May and June.

"We didn't know this would pass, let alone pass so overwhelmingly," said Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries in WWF's Mediterranean office. "Common sense is now promising to bring an end to the real shame in the international system of fisheries management."

Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea (Photo credit unknown)

The motion adds to the pressure on the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICCAT, which decides on the future of the bluefin fishery in November.

Last month, ICCAT scientists warned that the Mediterranean bluefin tuna population was on the brink of collapse. A retailers' boycott of Mediterranean bluefin tuna, supported by WWF, is spreading throughout Europe.

But a wave of disappointment swept through the delegates when a fragile consensus on whaling that was being forged between conservation groups, anti-whaling nations and whaling nations Japan and Norway fell apart.

The motion stating that there is insufficient data to support the claim that killing whales could mean increased fisheries productivity failed to pass when Australia demanded stronger wording.

Conservation groups has hoped a consensus would foster understanding that could take the pressure off recovering whale populations.

The Nature Conservancy and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity signed an agreement at the Congress to support governments that are striving to achieve their international conservation commitments.

Mark Tercek, president and chief executive of the Nature Conservancy says the agreement strengthens ongoing work. "We're currently supporting implementation of various CBD programs across five continents and in more than 30 countries, and have worked with governments and other organizations under the provisions of the CBD to create more than 22 million hectares of new protected areas and train over 700 protected area managers. This agreement will help take this approach to other areas, such as island conservation and freshwater conservation," he said.

Tercek said advances were made at the Congress. "Given the status of negotiations on both the climate change and biodiversity conventions, this World Conservation Congress was a crucial time for demonstrating the linkages between biodiversity and climate change and forging specific action plans for the next few important years."

A joint initiative was launched to highlight special places in the least protected place on Earth - the high seas - with publication of a brochure showcasing 10 ocean gems. Currently, less than one percent of the oceans are under any kind of protection.

The initiative brought the Chantecaille Beauté company together with IUCN, World Commission on Protected Areas, and Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

The brochure features sites such as the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean, the Emperor Seamount Chain in the Pacific Ocean, the Sargasso Sea and Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Saya de Malha Banks in the Indian Ocean.

"International efforts to identify and protect significant high seas places are in their infancy," said Jeff Ardron of MCBI. "This booklet should encourage collaborative scientific analysis of high seas ecosystems in need of conservation."

The rights of vulnerable and indigenous communities received high priority at the World Conservation Congress. IUCN members called on governments to take human rights implications into account in all conservation activities.

Lowland rainforest in Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (Photo by Desmarita Murni courtesy WWF-Indonesia)

Delegates saw the emergence of an ethical framework to guide conservation activities, where poverty reduction, rights-based approaches and "Do No Harm" principles can be applied to help redefine the relationship of humans with nature.

Meanwhile, the Congress sent a message to the UN's Climate Change Summit that will take place in Poland in December. There international negotiations will shape a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

In Poland, the IUCN is demanding more specific goals in line with the Bali Plan of Action agreed at the 2007 UN climate conference. The organization is calling for a 50 to 85 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 and keeping rises in temperature below 2°C, as well as actions on biodiversity, ecosystem services and protection of livelihoods.

The new study conducted for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for the first time assessed all of the 5,487 mammal species on Earth and found that at least 1,141 of them are known to be threatened with extinction.

Another IUCN report released in Barcelona shows that 35 percent of the world's birds, 52 percent of amphibians and 71 percent of warm-water reef-building corals are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change.

"There is a large overlap between threatened and climate change susceptible amphibian and bird species," said Jean-Christophe Vié, deputy head of IUCN Species Programme. "Climate change may cause a sharp rise in the risk and rate of extinction of currently threatened species. But we also want to highlight species which are currently not threatened but are likely to become so as climate change impacts intensify. By doing this we hope to promote preemptive and more effective conservation action."

In the closing statement of the World Conservation Congress, high profile commitments made over the past 10 days were enumerated.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.