Nagoya, Japan

The world has a bold new plan to stem the loss of biodiversity, and share its benefits fairly. But the vision has not yet secured enough funding to turn it into reality.

Delegates to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) summit in Nagoya, Japan, last week agreed to targets that would, if achieved, offer much greater protection for natural resources over the coming decade. During the next two years, countries say they will put into place strategies to boost the size of protected areas and restore lost habitats, based on 20 headline targets (for examples, see 'Biodiversity goals').

Although these 'Aichi targets' have broadly been welcomed as a step in the right direction by conservationists, "we still believe that much higher targets are necessary to maintain the full range of critical ecosystem services essential for human well-being", says Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Virginia.

When the CBD came into force in 1993, it articulated three main aspirations: to conserve biodiversity; to use natural resources sustainably; and to share the commercial fruits of genetic resources, such as medicinal plants and crop strains. But signatories admitted last year that they had failed to meet their 2002 goal of reducing biodiversity decline by 2010. They have also spent years arguing over the best way to regulate the exploitation of the world's flora and fauna.

Towards the end of the Nagoya talks, it looked as though discussion on that issue — known as access and benefit sharing (ABS) — would once again result in deadlock. But hours after the conference had officially ended, negotiators emerged with the Nagoya Protocol, a subsidiary to the main convention that lays out ground rules for ABS. The protocol will come into force in signatory nations once it has been ratified by at least 50 parties.

It outlines mechanisms to ensure that developing countries with valuable genetic resources are recompensed by businesses and governments who develop products from indigenous plants and animals. The protocol focuses on products developed after the treaty takes effect, but it urges governments to pay developing countries — in cash, or through technology-transfer agreements — even if the crucial genetic material was obtained decades ago. The United Nations Environment Programme, which administers the CBD, says that one possible mechanism for reimbursing developing countries would involve putting a proportion of profits into a special fund that could be tapped to support conservation efforts or build scientific capacity.

The protocol commits countries to each set up their own national agencies to manage the system, overseen by an international 'clearing house' that will also set out detailed codes of conduct and help draw up contracts between parties. "I won't say it's a miracle that we achieved this agreement, but it is surely historic," says Mittermeier.

Japan has already promised US$2 billion to help achieve the Nagoya targets, with smaller sums pledged by other CBD signatories, including France, Norway and the European Union. But governments have agreed to defer a detailed funding plan until the next convention summit in New Delhi, India, in 2012.