Wednesday

12th May 2021

EU to define positions ahead of Nagoya and Cancun

  • A castle in Nagoya, Japan, where UN talks on biodiversity will start next week (Photo: Yevgen Pogoryelov)

European Union environment ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday (14 October) are set to agree the bloc's main negotiating positions ahead of two key international conferences on biodiversity and climate change in the coming weeks.

MEPs last week urged the EU to play a leading role at the UN conference on biodiversity - due to start in Nagoya, Japan in a few days time - voicing their concern at an apparent lack of urgency among nations to protect habitats and species, estimated to be disappearing at up to 1000 times the normal rate.

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But the issue is gradually climbing up the political agenda. One study entitled the 'Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' has estimated that the annual cost caused by the loss of 'ecosystem services' - such as the provision of fresh water and control of disease - is roughly €50 billion. In comparison, OECD countries donated roughly €3 billion in 2008 towards projects to protect biodiversity.

Officials preparing the environment ministers' meeting said the EU had three broad goals for the two-week gathering in Japan (18-29 October) - cumbersomely known as the Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10).

These include the definition of a new strategic plan to protect the world's biodiversity after earlier targets to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 were missed. A current draft of the strategy contains 20 new targets for 2020, such as halving the loss and degradation of forests and other natural habitats, and ensuring that agriculture and aquaculture are sustainably managed.

The EU is among those also keen to agree a protocol on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing at Nagoya, facilitating the future development of pharmaceuticals from certain plant species, for example.

"Today most of the reserves of biodiversity are in developing countries," said one official in Brussels working on the EU position. "We want to ensure that everyone has access to these, but also that developing states are compensated."

The issue threatens to be one of the friction points at the Japanese meeting, with poorer countries worried that the language of the legally-binding deal currently on the table is not strong enough to guarantee them financial compensation.

Another tough topic is the question of funding for poorer states to help them prevent biodiversity loss, with a lack of money for conservation projects identified by the CBD as a key reason why governments have failed to meet their 2010 targets.

The issue frequently plays second fiddle to climate change funding, with cash-strapped European government's reluctant to hand over more under the current economic environment.

At a UN conference in New York recently, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said EU funding to help fight climate change could also be used to prevent biodiversity loss.

But centre-left MEP Jo Leinen, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee, warned against the dangers of this method of Thursday. "Recycling of funds is of no use to developing countries," he said.

Climate change

Environment ministers are also set to discuss the possibility of moving beyond the EU's current pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent on 1990 levels over the next decade and agree a negotiating position for the upcoming UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.

The final position will be rubber stamped by EU leaders meeting for a summit later this month, with the EU now adopting what climate action commissioner Conny Hedegaard describes as a 'step-wise' approach to securing a global deal on curbing carbon emissions after being sidelined by the US and China at a conference in Copenhagen last December.

With the likelihood of securing a single legally-binding deal looking distinctly slim, the EU environment ministers are also set to discuss whether the EU should sign up to a second commitment period under the current global agreement on CO2 emissions - the Kyoto Protocol - due to expire in 2012.

As ratified signatories to the protocol, Europe and other developed powers are bound to a second commitment period, but in the last two years, they have tried to wriggle out of the undertaking.

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