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MEDIA REPORTS

BIODIVERSITY AND WILDLIFE

This page was updated on: 01/13/10

 

2005

 

Biodiversity and Wildlife Media Reports Archives: 2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; 2006; 2004; 2003; 2002

 

DECEMBER 2005

 

NEW STUDY MAPS LOCATIONS OF SPECIES THREATENED WITH EXTINCTION

Hundreds of species are facing imminent extinction unless action is taken to protect them, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Alliance for Zero Extinction, a coalition of conservation groups. The study identified 794 species across 595 sites, the majority of which are in developing countries. Large concentrations of these sites are to be found in the tropics and in heavily populated areas, while only one-third of them are known to have legal protection.   

Links to further information

Alliance for Zero Extinction website

SciDev.net news report, 14 December 2005

Reuters news report, 13 December 2005

 

WILDLIFE LAW ENFORCEMENT NETWORK LAUNCHED IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

On 1 December 2005, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched its Wildlife Enforcement Network, which is said to be to largest wildlife law enforcement network in the world. The network’s aim is to fight cross-border trafficking and trade in endangered species. It is expected to deliver a coordination and information sharing mechanism, as well as to enforce the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the region.

 

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had proposed the establishment of a wildlife enforcement network during the thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, held in October 2004, in Bangkok, Thailand.   

 

Links to further information

ASEAN statement, 1 December 2005

CITES Press Release, 1 December 2005

 

NOVEMBER 2005

 

SWISS SUPPORT FIVE-YEAR BAN ON GM CROPS

In a referendum conducted on 27 November 2005, the Swiss people voted in favor of a five-year ban on the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) plants and the import of GM animals. The moratorium does not apply to research on GM organisms or the import of GM food and feed.

 

The moratorium supporters, including farmer, environmental and consumer organizations, say the result of the vote is a clear signal that the Swiss want GM-free food and produce. They also note that the “GM-free” label will add to the quality of Swiss agricultural production. Its opponents say the ban could isolate Switzerland within Europe and lead to a “brain drain” of researchers. The Swiss-based agrochemical firm Syngenta, the third largest producer of GM seeds in the world, said the ban will have no impact on it, because its research is conducted in the US.

 

According to reports, Austria is seeking to hold a pan-European debate on the cultivation of GM crops, arguing that the Swiss vote proves the European public’s opposition to GMOs. Austria will take over EU’s presidency in January 2006.  

 

Links to further information

Reuters News Service, 28 November 2005

Reuters News Service, 16 November 2005

Greenpeace press release, 28 November 2005

Syngenta press release, 29 November 2005

 

OCTOBER 2005

 

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE STILL FACE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES – UN

In spite of progress in some countries, many indigenous people still suffer human rights violations related to land use, discrimination, poverty, lack of access to social services and lack of protection of their cultures, according to a report submitted to the UN General Assembly. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, has issued a report noting the high degree of marginalization of indigenous people, serious deficiencies in access to basic social services, the troubling number of evictions and forced displacements, and environmental problems eroding the relationship of indigenous people with their traditions and means of survival. Stavenhagen’s report recommends that governments and UN agencies focus on enforcing existing legislation and implement measures to correct human rights abuses.

 

Links to further information

UN statement, 24 October 2005

Official report

 

RIO CONVENTIONS HEADS CALL FOR SUBSTANTIAL GEF REPLENISHMENT

The fourth replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), currently under negotiation, will be critical to ensure progress in the key areas of climate change, biodiversity, land degradation, ozone depletion and chemicals management, according to the heads of the Rio Conventions. In consideration of its significant impact, the Executive Heads of the Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Desertification have voiced their support for a strong GEF replenishment.

 

Link to further information

Joint press release, 26 October 2005

 

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE NEED SPECIAL ATTENTION TO COMBAT POVERTY - UN

Governments should recognize that indigenous peoples have special needs and the right to prior consultation and informed consent in the development of public policy and decisions about investments and development projects, a UN Committee has been told. This was the message of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, during a meeting of the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee (the “Third Committee”) of the General Assembly on 20 October 2005. Poverty affects indigenous people more severely than the rest of the world’s population. UN human rights, economic and labor experts addressed the Committee on the need to promote sustainable development and protect the rights of indigenous people.

 

Link to further information

UN news release, 20 October 2005

 

NEW BENCHMARKS FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROPOSED

A new Charter has been launched setting out a framework for how intellectual property could be protected and promoted. The Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and Intellectual Property was developed by a commission of academics, artists, business experts, economists, lawyers, politicians and scientists. The Charter was launched by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce – or RSA – which was founded in 1754 and is headquartered in London.

 

Links to further information

The Charter

RSA press release, 14 October 2005

 

SEPTEMBER 2005

 

NEW FORUM TO COMBAT ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME IN ASIA

A regional forum has been formed as the first step to a more rigorous monitoring of environmental crime in Asia and the Pacific. Facilitated by UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, the forum is expected to help curb the trade of hazardous chemicals, as well as natural resources and endangered species in the region. The forum will foster regional cooperation in combating environmental crime, encourage intelligence and information exchange, explore synergies in respective training programmes, and coordinate activities in combating illegal trade.

 

Link to further information

World-wire news report, 15 September 2005

 

IUCN TO CONDUCT FIRST ASSESSMENT OF EUROPE’S THREATENED MAMMALS

IUCN-The World Conservation Union will conduct the first European Mammals Assessment over the coming 15 months with EU funding, using the framework of the pan-European initiative “Countdown 2010 – Halt the loss of biodiversity.” It will be the first specific assessment of Europe’s approximately 281 mammal species, including a high number of threatened endemic species, such as the Iberian lynx, the most endangered big cat in the world. The assessment will result in two major products: the first European Red List of Threatened Species; and the Red List indices, showing how the status of threatened species has changed over time. 

 

Link to further information

IUCN press release, 15 September 2005

 

IUCN LAUNCHES INITIATIVE FOR POVERTY REDUCTION

The Conservation for Poverty Reduction Initiative, a worldwide programme of action to secure and improve livelihoods through improved ecosystem management in Africa, Asia and Latin America, was launched by IUCN during the 2005 World Summit. The Initiative, which makes poverty reduction and livelihood security a key objective of conservation action, aims for a total investment of US$300 million worldwide. 

 

Link to further information

IUCN news release, 14 September 2005

 

BIODIVERSITY’S CONTRIBUTION TO MDGS STRESSED

A joint statement on the contribution of biodiversity to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been issued by the Liaison Group of the Biodiversity-Related Conventions. The statement, released during the 2005 World Summit, calls on leaders to recognize that “to make the MDGs a reality in a highly populated planet, biological diversity needs to be used sustainably and its benefits more equitably shared.” The statement was signed by the Heads of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the World Heritage Centre. 

 

Link to further information

The statement

 

AUGUST 2005

 

AFRICAN UNION ESTABLISHES PANEL ON BIOTECHNOLOGY

The African Union Commission has established a panel of eminent scholars, policy makers and industrialists to draft an African policy and strategy for biotechnology, and to provide independent science policy advice to the African Union. The panel will be co-chaired by former World Bank Vice-President and Director of the Library of Alexandria Ismail Serageldin of Egypt, and former Executive Secretary of the CBD and coordinator of the Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation of the UN Millennium Project, Calestous Juma of Kenya. The activities of the panel will be coordinated by the Science and Technology Office of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  

 

Links to further information

SciDev.Net report, 21 July 2005

 

FAO URGES SYSTEMATIC ASSESSMENT OF GM TREES

A regulatory framework to govern research and application of GM forest trees is essential in light of rapid advances in research and biotechnology applications, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

 

“The issue goes beyond the country level, since pollen flow and seed dispersal do not take account of national boundaries, and since wood is a global commodity,” said Pierre Sigaud, a forest genetic resources expert at FAO, in a recent press statement. While GM trees could potentially offer increased wood production, improved wood quality and resistance to insects, diseases and herbicides, some risks have been raised, including transgene instability, plantation failure, poor wood quality, development of tolerance to the modified trait by insects or disease organisms, and the escape of modified genes into natural ecosystems.  

 

Links to further information

Biotechnology in forestry gaining ground, FAO Press Release, 13 July 2005

UN body urges caution over GM trees, SciDev.Net, 22 July 2005

 

CONCERNS RAISED AS EUROPEAN COMMISSION AUTHORIZES GM MAIZE MON 863 AS ANIMAL FEED

The European Commission has authorized the importation into the EU of the genetically modified maize variety MON 863. The GM maize was developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the corn rootworm for processing as animal feed. The authorization has been granted for 10 years and does not cover its use for cultivation or human food. The product will need to be clearly labeled as containing GM maize.

 

Although the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the MON 863 maize was as safe as conventional maize and unlikely to produce adverse effects, many member States maintained objections in terms of molecular characterization, allergenicity, toxicity, an inadequate monitoring plan, accidental spillage, presence of an antibiotic resistance marker gene and detectability. Concerns have also arisen from recent research showing that rats fed with the MON 863 maize showed significantly different levels of white blood cells, kidney weights and structure.

 

Links to further information

GMOs: Commission authorizes the import of GM maize MON 863 for use in animal feed, EC Press Release, 8 August 2005

Commission opens doors to import of controversial GM maize, Friends of the Earth Europe press release, 8 August 2005

 

INDIA PROPOSES AMENDING TRIPS AGREEMENT TO PROTECT BIODIVERSITY

India has circulated a letter to trade ministers emphasizing the need for an amendment to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in order to protect biodiversity and traditional knowledge, according to reports.

 

“We need to form a common position before the Hong Kong meeting for taking the process towards a logical outcome,” Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath emphasized. “India, along with other countries having significant biological diversity, have made their submissions to bring about a mutually-supportive resolution to the objectives of the TRIPs and the CBD,” he added.

 

A nation-wide citizens’ campaign was launched in India on 9 August against patents on life forms and biopiracy to pressure governments to review the TRIPS Agreement.

 

Links to further information

India calls for biodiversity protection under WTO, Indo-Asian News Service, 29 July 2005

Campaign for review of TRIPS to be launched, The Hindu, 6 August 2005

 

SPACE SHUTTLE REVEALS VAST ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE

Astronauts on the Discovery space shuttle saw vast environmental damage on Earth during their recent mission, according to Commander Eileen Collins. Pointing to areas of erosion and deforestation, she warned that people should take good care of the planet and replace the resources that have been used. She also said the view from space made it clear that the atmosphere needs protection too. “The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it’s so very thin,” she said. “We know that we don't have much air, we need to protect what we have.”

 

Link to further information

Reuters News Service report, 4 August 2005

 

INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE NEEDED TO FIGHT HUNGER, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION, SAYS FAO

A genuine intercultural dialogue is a precondition for progress against hunger and environmental degradation, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The agency has declared “Agriculture and intercultural dialogue” as the theme of the 2005 World Food Day, which will be celebrated on 16 October. 

 

Link to further information

Agriculture and intercultural dialogue

 

JUNE 2005

 

NORWAY ESTABLISHES SEED STORAGE FACILITY

Norway announced that a storage depository of seeds already stocked elsewhere in the world will be established on Svalbard islands in the Arctic. The facility aims to provide an additional safety net for the world’s food supply, protecting valuable plant genetic resources against diseases, climate change, wars and natural disasters.

 

Link to further information

Norwegian government press release, June 2005

 

CITES CELEBRATES 30TH ANNIVERSARY

Supporters of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. “CITES has proved highly effective in ensuring that human needs remain compatible with wildlife conservation,” said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers. The treaty entered into force on 1 July 1975.

 

Link to further information

CITES press release

 

EU ALLOWS NATIONAL BANS ON CERTAIN GMOS TO REMAIN

The EU Council of Environment Ministers has voted to allow Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg to maintain eight national bans on certain GM maize and rapeseed varieties, rejecting a European Commission proposal to lift the bans. Meeting on 24 June 2005, the Council reached a qualified majority against a Commission proposal on GMOs for the first time. While noting that the Commission has a legal obligation to make sure that the existing regulatory framework governing the release of GMOs is correctly applied by Member States, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the “vote sends a political signal that Member States may want to revisit some aspects of the existing system.”

 

Links to further information

GMOs: Commission Reaction on Council Votes on Safeguards and GM Maize MON863, European Commission press release, 24 June 2005

Council’s Refusal to Lift National Restrictions Casts Doubt over GMO Rules, Cordis News, 27 June 2005

European Ministers Vote to Keep Biotech Food Bans, Friends of the Earth Europe press release, 24 June 2005

 

MAY 2005

 

INTERNATIONAL BIODIVERSITY DAY CELEBRATED; MILLENNIUM ECOSYSTEM REPORT RELEASED

International Biodiversity Day has taken place, with this year’s event focusing on the theme, “Biodiversity: life insurance for our changing world.” Held annually on 22 May, this year’s International Biodiversity Day included the release of the Biodiversity Synthesis Report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, entitled “Ecosystems and Human Well-being.” The Biodiversity Synthesis Report concludes that human actions in the last 50 years have changed ecosystems more than any other time in history. It highlights unsustainable patterns of production and consumption resulting in biodiversity loss, and stresses the consequences of this loss, including the collapse of regional fisheries, climate change, pollution and invasive species.

 

Links to further information

CBD Website on International Biodiversity Day

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Biodiversity Synthesis Report Released for the International Day for Biological Diversity, CBD Press Release, 19 May 2005

Biodiversity Synthesis Report, May 2005

 

IUCN, WBCSD INTENSIFY COOPERATION

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have agreed to intensify their cooperation in “strengthening global efforts to protect the earth, its forests, its wetlands, its biodiversity and its vitality for human wellbeing and development.” The agreement, which was announced on 3 May 2005, will mean the two organizations work together to develop and promote the business case for biodiversity, encourage and support NGO/private sector partnerships and dialogues, and mainstream biodiversity conservation in the business operations of WBCSD members. They will also seek to enhance civil society understanding, recognition and support for biodiversity leadership by business, and help develop, test and promote the use of market-oriented strategies and business actions that support sustainable management of natural resources.

 

Link to further information

Getting Down to the Business of Sustaining Ecosystem Services: IUCN and WBCSD Join Forces, press release, 3 May 2005

 

APRIL 2005

 

GENETIC RESEARCH PROJECT RAISES INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ IRE

A five-year project to reconstruct a genealogy of the world’s populations and the migration paths of early humans has met with skepticism from indigenous peoples groups. The National Geographic Society and IBM project aims to collect 100,000 blood samples from indigenous populations around the world. According to its supporters, the project would help map humanity’s genealogy. However, the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism has voiced its opposition to the project and its genetic testing, alleging similarities with the Human Genome Diversity Project, which was resisted on bioethical grounds.

 

Links to further information

National Geographic, the Genographic Project

The Genographic Project: Indigenous Representatives Each Have a Story to Tell, National Geographic press release, 13 April 2005
Geographic Society is Seeking a Genealogy of Humankind, New York Times, 13 April 2005

Geographic Society is Seeking a Genealogy of Humankind, New York Times, 13 April 2005

Indigenous Peoples Oppose National Geographic and IBM Genetic Research Project that Seeks Indigenous Peoples DNA, Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism press release, 13 April 2005

 

CANADIAN SEAL HUNT SPARKS PROTESTS

The annual hunt for young seals, which began on 29 March off Canada’s Atlantic coast, has generated protests by activists and animal rights groups. Hostility between sealers and protesters turned to violence when protesters tried to take pictures of the hunt. The protesters were later arrested and charged with being less than half a nautical mile from seal hunt operations, which is prohibited under Canadian law.

 

The Canadian Government recently calculated that the seal population is now around the five million mark, triple what it was in the 1970s. The authorities argue that the cull is needed to control a healthy seal population, protect depleted fish stocks and provide jobs in the economically-depressed province of Newfoundland. However, activists say the hunt is not humane, as many animals are skinned alive. Activists have called for a boycott of Canadian seafood products.

 

Links to further information

Canada Unveils Annual Seal Hunt, Blasts Activists, Reuters News Service, 23 March 2005  Hunters Return to the Floes, Globe and Mail, 29 March 2005

Canada Kicks off Annual Hunt for Baby Seals, International Fund for Animal Welfare Press Release, 29 March 2005

Canada Seal Hunt Gets Under Way, BBC News, 30 March 2005

Seal Hunt Protesters Arrested on Gulf Ice Floes, CTV.ca news, 31 March 2005

Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Seal Hunt Protesters Beaten, Arrested, ENS news, 1 April 2005

 

MINING IN BIODIVERSE AREAS BRINGS HOPE, PROTESTS

Disputes between miners and environmentalists have continued to heat up globally as mining companies seek to extract raw materials from areas rich in biodiversity. A Rio Tinto project to mine in Madagascar that promises jobs and development for the island’s population has been resisted by environmental groups, which argue that the social and environmental costs will be far greater than the benefits. In Latin America, protests against modern mining methods involving strip mines and cyanide spills have united Indian groups, environmentalists, farmers and religious leaders in confronting the mining companies. Their resistance has proved to be effective in a number of cases, and has resulted in the closure of a Newmont mine in Peru and the annulment of mining concessions in Honduras and Costa Rica. In Venezuela, hundreds of representatives of the Barí, Yukpa and Wayúu indigenous peoples recently marched on the capital to protest against coal mining near their lands, stressing that it destroys their farming practices, water and lands. Meanwhile, in Ghana, two local NGOs have filed a court case against Bonte Gold Mines Ltd, a liquidated mining firm subsidiary of a Canadian company, on environmental grounds.

 

Links to further information

Madagascar’s Mining Project Draws Mixed Reaction, Reuters News Service, 30 March 2005 Madagascar’s Conservation Conundrum, BBC News, 11 April 2005

In Latin America, a New Gold Rush Runs Into Opposition over Strip Mines, Cyanide, Environment News Network, 12 April 2005

Environment-Venezuela: Indigenous Peoples Protest Coal Mining, Inter Press Service News Agency, 4 April 2005

Runaway Mining Firm Dragged to Court, Public Agenda (Accra), 8 April 2005 

 

ILLEGAL GM CORN RESULTS IN U.S PENALTIES, EU CONTROLS

The admission by agrochemicals firm Syngenta that corn seeds sold between 2001 and 2004 were mistakenly contaminated with a strain of GM corn that had not been approved for distribution has created controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a fine of US$375,000, while the European Commission has introduced emergency measures requiring all imports of GM corn feed from the U.S to be accompanied by a certificate that the import is free of illegal GM corn. According to the company, Bt10 maize containing an insect-resistant strain, which is not approved for distribution in the US, was inadvertently planted in small amounts as Bt11 maize between 2001 and 2004. Bt11 maize is approved for cultivation in the US, Canada, Argentina, Japan, South Africa and Uruguay, and for import for food and feed use in the EU, Australia, China and other countries. The company claims the proteins expressed by Bt10 and Bt11 are identical, with the Bt gene in a different location in the maize genome, which does not affect the safety of the maize. However, Bt10 also includes a marker gene conferring resistance against the antibiotic ampicillin. Although Syngenta claims the gene is inactive in Bt10, according to the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the ampicillin-resistance gene should not be present in crops grown commercially. Ampicillin is widely prescribed for a variety of human infections and it is feared that consumption of Bt10 will lead bacteria in the stomach to pick up the resistance gene and become tolerant to the antibiotic, making it less effective against infections. Yet, in a statement issued on 12 April, EFSA noted that the presence of the ampicillin-resistance marker gene in a GM crop is unlikely to alter significantly the existing pool of bacteria resistant to this antibiotic. Although the crop is believed to be safe, the fact that it was sold for years by accident raises serious questions about how carefully biotechnology firms control their activities or how effectively regulations are enforced, critics note.

 

The conclusion of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA is that there are no human or animal health or environmental concerns, due to the limited amount in the environment, the results of the review of product characterization information, and the close similarity between Bt10 and Bt11, which has received approval. Existing cultivations of Bt10 have been destroyed and seed stocks quarantined. The European Commission was first informed about the inadvertent release by the US Mission to the EU on 22 March. However, it was only on 31 March that the Commission was informed that Bt10 contains the ampicillin-resistance gene. The Commission then asked Syngenta to release the full information about the molecular characterization of Bt10 and its distinction from Bt11, as well as the specific detection method and adequate reference materials to trace Bt10. The information requested was not provided and, on 15 April, the European Commission adopted an emergency measure specifying “that consignments of corn gluten feed and brewers grain from the USA can only be placed on the EU market if they are accompanied by an analytical report by an accredited laboratory which demonstrates, based on a suitable and validated method, that the product does not contain Bt10”.

 

“We view the EU's decision to impose a certification requirement on US corn gluten due to the possible, low-level presence of Bt-10 corn to be an over-reaction,” said Edward Kemp, spokesman at the US mission to the EU. Syngenta announced that it supports the EU’s targeted certification programme. Friends of the Earth campaigner Adrian Bebb noted that “this incident exposes an incompetent and complacent industry, an absence of regulation in the United States and a breakdown in Europe's monitoring of food imports. Immediate action is needed at an international level to prevent further contamination in the future.”

 

Links to further information

Following Syngenta-Initiated Investigation of Unintended Corn Release, EPA and USDA Conclude Existing Food Safety Clearance Applies, No Human Health or Environmental Concerns, Syngenta media release, 21 March 2005 

US Launches Probe into Sales of Unapproved Transgenic Corn, Nature News, 22 March 2005  Syngenta Sold Some Unapproved Biotech Corn in US, Reuters News Service, 23 March 2005

Commission Seeks Clarification on Bt10 from US authorities and Syngenta, European Commission Press Release, 1 April 2005

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service decision. April 2005 

Syngenta Agrees Settlement with USDA on Unintended Bt10 Corn, Syngenta media release, 8 April 2005

Swissinfo, US authorities fine Syngenta over Bt10, 9 April 2005

EFSA Provides Scientific Support to the European Commission on Issues Related to the Safety of Bt10 Maize, European Food Safety Authority, 12 April 2005

Bt10: Commission Requires Certification of US Exports to Stop Unauthorised GMO Entering the EU, European Commission Press Release, 15 April 2005

Syngenta Supports EU in Targeted Certification Program for Two Animal Feed Maize Products, Syngenta Media Release, 15 April 2005

US Calls EU Move on GMO Maize an Over-Reaction, Reuters AlertNet, 15 April 2005

EU Restricts US Maize Imports – De Facto Ban on Maize-Based Animal Feeds, Friends of the Earth Europe Press Release, 15 April 2005

 

CITES RAISES CONCERNS OVER DECLINE IN INDIAN TIGER NUMBERS

Concerned by reports indicating a dramatic decline in Indian tiger populations, CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers has reportedly requested a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with the aim of accelerating cooperation between CITES and India and promoting stronger conservation and anti-poaching measures.

 

Indian Prime Minister Singh has already ordered a police investigation and established a new task force, following reports by the Indian media and conservation groups of a rapid fall in tiger populations and an increase in poaching.

 

A century ago, there were approximately 40,000 tigers in India. Now, there are 3,700, according to the government census, while wildlife experts estimate that barely 2,000 survive. Officials say tigers may have already disappeared in the Sariska sanctuary in the state of Rajasthan, and conservationists fear the situation may be the same in sanctuaries across India. Amit Singhal, from the Environment and Forests Department, said the picture of the decline in Indian tiger populations will be clearer later in April, when an expert panel finishes its investigation.

 

The next meeting of the CITES Tiger Enforcement Task Force will be held in New Delhi from 17-19 May 2005. It will give CITES and Customs and police officials from China, India and Nepal the opportunity to discuss the illegal trade in skins of Asian big cats.

 

Links to further information

CITES Seeks Meeting with Prime Minister Singh to Discuss India’s Tiger Crisis, CITES Press Release, 12 April 2005 

Indian PM Orders Moves to Save Disappearing Tigers, Reuters News Service, 21 March 2005  Scandal of Indian tigers That Disappeared, Financial Times, 28 March 2005

India Sacks Officials after Tigers Go Missing, Reuters News Service, 4 April 2005 

 

MARCH 2005

 

MILLENNIUM ECOSYSTEM ASSESSMENT LAUNCHES REPORTS

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) began releasing its findings and reports on 30 March 2005. In press events at London, Washington, DC, Tokyo, Beijing, New Delhi, Brasilia, Cairo, Nairobi and Rome, the MA presented among others its key synthesis report and a statement from its Board entitled “Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Well-Being.” The MA reports comprise a total of seven synthesis and summary reports, and four technical volumes. An additional set of about 16 sub-global assessments are to be released separately.

 

Involving some 1,500 experts from across the world, the MA is a partnership among several international organizations, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Convention on Migratory Species, five UN agencies (WHO, FAO, UNESCO, UNEP, UNDP), the World Bank, and IUCN. The MA is governed by a high-level scientific Panel and a multistakeholder Board composed of the participating institutions and government officials, the private sector, NGOs and indigenous peoples.

 

Links to further information

MA website

 

EUROPEAN PATENT OFFICE REVOKES NEEM PATENT

In what is considered to be an historic judgment against biopiracy, the European Patent Office has upheld a decision to revoke in its entirety a patent on a fungicidal product derived from seeds of the Neem, a tree indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The decision concludes a ten-year long legal challenge, mounted by Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, Magda Aelvoet, then President of the Greens in the European Parliament, and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, who claimed that the fungicidal properties of the Neem tree had been public knowledge in India for many centuries. The patent was filed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and WR Grace, a multinational chemicals company.

 

The patent was originally issued in September 1994. However, following the filing of a legal opposition to the patent, it was withdrawn by the European Patent Office’s Opposition Division, on the grounds that the patent did not satisfy the requirements for novelty and/or inventive step. The Technical Board of Appeals finally concluded the case by dismissing an appeal by the USDA and Thermo Trilogy, a company that had acquired the rights at the time.

 

“This victory is the result of extremely long solidarity. It is a victory of committed citizens over commercial interests and big powers,” said Vandana Shiva. Ironically, the Persian name for the Neem tree is Azad-Darakth, or “free tree.” Indians have been using it for millennia in agriculture, public health, medicine, toiletries, cosmetics and livestock protection.

 

Links to further information

Landmark victory in the world’s first case against biopiracy, press release from the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, et al, 8 March 2005

EPO upholds decision to withdraw ‘free tree’ patent, European Parliament Greens/EFA press release, 8 March 2005

“Freeing the free tree” Briefing Paper, Linda Bullard, March 2005

 

REPORT RANKS ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE OF REGIONAL FISHERIES ORGANIZATIONS

A new report has been released that ranks the environmental performance of the world’s 19 intergovernmental regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). The report from BirdLife International identifies the organizations that are failing to prevent the incidental mortality of albatrosses and other species in longline fisheries. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna come in for particular criticism, with the report suggesting that they “are doing little or nothing to reduce the bycatch of seabirds, sharks and turtles, while at the same time many of their fish stocks have declined by more than 90%.” According to the report, only one of the organizations, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which governs the Southern Ocean, is taking comprehensive action to tackle bycatch.

 

The report evaluates the 14 organizations whose areas overlap with albatross distribution, assessing their performance in fulfilling their duties to minimize bycatch, particularly albatross bycatch, within their fisheries. The evaluation used a wide range of criteria, including assessment of participation and transparency, data collection, measures to manage target fish stocks and measures to combat illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing, as well as measures to collect data on, and reduce bycatch of, a wide range of species.

 

“RFMOs have a legal and moral obligation to force the fisheries they govern to reduce this wildlife toll,” said Cleo Small, the author of the review and BirdLife’s Marine Policy Officer. The obligation of these organizations to conserve species such as albatrosses, sharks and sea turtles has been established by legal decisions, including those contained in the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. The report was presented to the 26th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries and Ministerial Meeting, held in Rome from 7-12 March 2006.

 

Links to further information

Fisheries failing to safeguard seabirds, BirdLife International press release, 7 March 2005

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. Their duties and performance in reducing bycatch of albatrosses and other species, Cleo Small, BirdLife International, 2005

World fisheries managers let seabirds perish on longlines, Environment News Service, 9 March 2005

 

WHALING MORATORIUM MAY END SOON, SAYS OFFICIAL

The international moratorium on commercial whaling may be about to end due to pressure from pro-whaling nations, according to a New Zealand official. “There is now a strong move to resume commercial whaling within the International Whaling Commission,” said New Zealand’s commissioner to the IWC, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, in a warning that has attracted the attention of anti-whaling nations and conservationists.

 

According to reports, Japan and other pro-whaling nations have now gained a majority in the IWC and are expected to overturn the moratorium within the next few years. Most nations that have recently joined the Commission, including Palau, Gabon, Benin and Mongolia, are apparently taking the pro-whaling side. Pro- and anti-whaling nations last clashed at the 56th meeting of the IWC, held in July 2004, in Sorrento, Italy. The meeting’s outcome was seen as a compromise: the moratorium on commercial whaling remained, but calls to establish new whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and the South Atlantic were rejected. However, even with the ban in place, some 1,400 whales are killed every year under various exemptions, including for scientific research purposes. If commercial whaling is to resume, new safeguards and controls need to be put in place, according to Geoffrey Palmer. These could include removing the “scientific whaling” provision and strengthening international enforcement. The 2005 annual meeting of the IWC will convene from 20-24 June 2005, in Ulsan, Republic of Korea.

 

Links to further information

Whaling moratorium likely to be dumped, New Zealand Official Warns, Environment News Network, 15 March 2005

NZ out to counter Japanese ‘vote buying’, New Zealand Herald, 19 March 2005

Slaughter ahead as whaling ban may end, Gulf News, 16 March 2005

 

GM CONTROVERSY CONTINUES AS BRAZIL LIFTS BAN, EUROPE DEBATES NEW REPORT

The use of genetically-modified crops continues to cause controversy, with Brazil opening the way to their use, a new report being released in Europe, and international talks taking place in Canada.

 

With the adoption of legislation allowing the planting and sale of GM crops, as well as opening the way for human embryonic stem cell research, Brazil has lifted its ban on the cultivation and sale of GM crops. The country’s biosafety law states that all products containing GM crops will need to be clearly labeled. Controversially, the law gives the power to the National Technical Commission of Biosafety, established under the Ministry of Science and Technology, to decide which GM crops can be sold. The Ministry of Environment has reportedly expressed concerns that the public bodies responsible for the environment, agriculture and health will be downgraded in terms of policy-making on GMOs, creating an imbalance in the decision-making process. Environmentalists have warned that cultivating GM crops could threaten the Amazon’s biodiversity and benefit large-scale agribusiness at the expense of small-scale farmers.

 

In Europe, the final report on the world’s most comprehensive field trial of GM crops was published by the UK’s Royal Society on 22 March. The report focused on an herbicide-tolerant GM variety of Britain’s biggest crop, winter oil seed rape, and concluded that its cultivation resulted in fewer birds, butterflies and bees than the cultivation of conventional varieties. The main finding was that broadleaf weeds, on which birds rely heavily for food, were far less numerous in GM fields than conventional fields. Researchers noted that it is not the GM crops that harm wildlife but the herbicide sprayed on them. Fields containing conventional crops are sprayed with an herbicide that usually kills weeds before the crops emerge, but herbicide-tolerant GM crops can be sprayed later. UK Environment Minister Elliot Morley will apparently await the advice of the government’s advisory committee before making a final decision regarding the cultivation of GM crops in the country, but said the trials demonstrated the government’s “precautionary approach on GM crops.” After the results, experts note, there seems to be little chance of introducing GM varieties in the UK in the foreseeable future.

 

In other GM-related news, a delegation comprising farmers, scientists and policy specialists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, as well as several Canadian civil society groups, have held a closed-door meeting with Canadian government officials to express concerns over the use of GM crops as a tool for sustainable development. “This exchange is particularly timely, as the federal government is currently developing a ‘pro-poor’ science strategy en route to the G8 Summit this July. Agricultural biotechnology is a central element in this strategy,” said Pat Mooney of ETC Group. “Canada must consider the critical perspectives of those in developing countries when developing future policies on these issues.”

 

Links to further information

Brazil says “yes” to GM crops and stem cell research, SciDev.Net, 7 March 2005, Environmentalists fear Brazil’s lifting of GMO ban, Reuters News Service, 7 March 2005

Can GMOs end world hunger?, Council of Canadians, 9 March 2005

Final GM farm scale evaluations paper published today, UK Royal Society news, 21 March 2005

Effects on weed and invertebrate abundance and diversity of herbicide management in genetically modified herbicide-tolerant winter-sown oilseed rape, David Bohan et al, Proceedings of the Royal Society, 7 March 2005

Damning verdict on GM crops, The Guardian, 22 March 2005

Biggest study of GMO finds impact on birds, bees, Reuters News Service, 22 March 2005

 

NEW METHOD USED TO ASSESS PROGRESS ON 2010 BIODIVERSITY TARGET

A new method to assess how much human actions are affecting the natural world could help in determining progress on the 2010 target of significantly reducing biodiversity loss, according to reports. The “Biodiversity Intactness Index” was published in Nature by R. J. Scholes and R. Biggs of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The Index draws on expert knowledge about how human activities increase or decrease the total populations of groups of ecologically similar species. It then gives a measure of how close those populations are to populations in pre-industrial times. Researchers tested the index in seven countries in southern Africa. Overall, the index suggests that by 2000, populations of the plants and animals assessed had an average decline of 84 % in comparison with pre-industrial levels. Researchers argued that simply counting species numbers and assessing their risk of extinction does not give a detailed indication of how intact the natural world is as a result of human activities.

 

Links to further information

Measuring loss of biodiversity the expert way, SciDev.Net, 11 March 2005

A biodiversity intactness index, R.J.Scholes and R.Biggs, 2005

An index of intactness, G. Mace, 2005

 

PROTECTED AREAS AT RISK IN ALASKA, AFRICA—REPORTS

Protected areas are at risk from drilling in Alaska, while in Africa they are under threat due to lack of funding, according to reports. On 16 March 2005, the US Senate approved a plan to allow drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Long opposed by the Canadian government because of its impacts on the northern environment, the measure still faces opposition and several legislative obstacles before becoming law. US President Bush welcomed the vote as a step toward making “America less dependent on foreign sources of energy, eventually by up to a million barrels of oil a day.” However, opponents have argued that there is not enough oil in the refuge to justify harming the area’s wildlife.

 

Meanwhile, some US$300 million is required annually to manage and protect Africa’s 1,200 protected areas, many of which are currently under threat because of inadequate resources and government policing. The warning on Africa’s protected areas was made by protected area managers and experts attending an international meeting held from 1-2 February 2005, in Nairobi, Kenya. Discussions were organized by BirdLife International and the African Protected Areas Initiative. The workshop noted that significant financing gaps currently exist in Africa’s protected area systems, and that substantially more funding would be required to develop a comprehensive protected area system in Africa. Participants also identified the need for an ongoing system to track spending on protected areas, and recommended undertaking country-level studies on the costs and benefits.

 

Issues such as the establishment of national and regional protected area systems, a global network, adequate financing, protected area governance and the participation of indigenous and local communities, will be discussed in the first meeting of the CBD Working Group on protected areas to be held in June 2005, in Montecatini, Italy.

 

Violence, Torture Reported in National Park: In related news, forest rangers in Côte d’Ivoire, a country under scrutiny for its human rights record, reportedly tortured to death 13 villagers living in a national park after arresting them for trespassing and forcibly evicting them from their homes. The Marahoue national park, made up of nearly 1,000 square kilometers of forest and savannah, is home to approximately 5,000 to 14,000 inhabitants. Forestry agents apparently started evicting people when the government announced late last year that all inhabitants occupying the park illegally had to leave.

 

Links to further information

FACTBOX-Key Facts about ANWR’s land, oil, wildlife, Reuters News Service, 17 March 2005

US Senate backs opening new Alaska oil spigot, Reuters News Service, 17 March 2005

Africa’s protected areas face funding shortfall, BirdLife International press release, 7 February 2005

Africa needs $300m to manage its 1,200 wildlife “protected areas,” The East African, 16 March 2005

UN demands inquiry into 13 torture deaths, IRIN News, Côte d’ Ivoire, 16 March 2005

Villagers tortured to death in Ivory Coast park, Reuters News Service, 18 March 2005

 

IUCN LAUNCHES TSUNAMI TASK FORCE ON PROTECTED AREAS

The IUCN Protected Areas Programme and World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) are launching a Tsunami Task Force in order to restore protected areas in affected regions. Protected areas are believed to have played a role in reducing the impact of the tsunami in some places where healthy mangrove systems, forests, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems existed. However, many of these ecosystems have been severely damaged.

 

The Task Force plans to focus on four key areas: assessment of the status and rehabilitation needs of protected areas after the tsunami; development of a twinning programme to link affected protected areas with protected areas in other parts of the world; support for nature-based tourism planning and development; and the provision of expertise to contribute to the efforts of IUCN in responding to the tsunami. A final strategy will be drafted following consultations with relevant agencies in the affected countries and the staff of IUCN in Asia.

 

In related news, the IUCN, as part of an expert committee established to conduct assessments of tsunami-related damage to protected areas in Sri Lankan costal zones, has recently completed rapid assessments in a series of sanctuaries and national parks.

 

Links to further information

WCPA sets up tsunami task force on protected areas, IUCN press release, 4 March 2005

Post tsunami assessments completed in Sri Lankan protected areas, IUCN, 3 March 2005

Assessments of Sri Lanka�s protected areas, IUCN, 2005

 

JANUARY 2005

 

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ASSEMBLY ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON GMOs

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted a resolution on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Assembly, which brings together members of national parliaments from the 46 member states of the Council of Europe, adopted the resolution during its January 2005 �part-session.� The resolution goes beyond EU legislation in several areas, calling for labeling of meat, milk and eggs from GM-fed animals, a liability regime, reduced thresholds for adventitious contamination and GMO-free zones.

 

The Assembly recognized the need for �clear political rules which pay due regard to the precautionary principle� to �safeguard in the long term the ecological and economic fundamentals of human life and the biodiversity of our living environment.� It noted that there is not yet reliable information concerning the medium- and long-term environmental effects of the production and use of GMOs, adding that risks should continue to be studied. The resolution also addressed ethical and ecological concerns regarding the development of transgenic animals for economic reasons and cautioned that �patents on biological material intensify and consolidate dependencies and bring with them the danger of monopolies and merciless cut-throat competition to the disadvantage of farming structures and farmers.�

 

Links to further information

The Assembly resolution, January 2005

Letter on the resolution to the CBD Secretariat, February 2005

 

AGREEMENT RECOGNIZES INDIGENOUS RIGHTS OVER POTATO STRAINS

A landmark agreement between six indigenous communities from Peru and the International Potato Center has recognized the rights of indigenous communities over locally-developed potato strains and associated traditional knowledge. Using a new model that could provide the template for similar initiatives globally, the agreement is expected to attract attention at the third meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity�s Working Group on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, to be held in Bangkok from 14-18 February 2005.

 

�[This is the] first legal sign of the restoration of rights that indigenous people once had,� said Alejandro Argumedo of the Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), which helped negotiate the agreement with the International Potato Center, one the research centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Noting that indigenous people are against patents, he explained that the agreement means that no one else can claim intellectual property rights over those potato varieties. The agreement, called the �Agreement on the repatriation, restoration and monitoring of agro-biodiversity of native potatoes and associated community knowledge systems,� could challenge the trend of �privatizing genetic resources and indigenous knowledge which has seen seed gene banks swallowed up by unaccountable research bodies and corporations, threatening local livelihoods and cultural ways of life,� ANDES said in its statement.

 

The London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Government of the Netherlands provided support to ANDES in its work on the agreement. The Andes region in and around Peru has more than 2,000 varieties of potato, out of more than 4,000 varieties that exist around the world. Potatoes are important for Andean peoples for food, and hold a central place in Andean cultures.

 

Links to further information

Text of the Potato Agreement, 20 January 2005

Potato Capital of the World Offers up New Recipe, IPS News, 18 January 2005

New Potato Deal in Peru Signposts Global Drive to Open up Food Genebanks to Indigenous Peoples, IIED press release, 18 January 2005

 

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