Opening at UNESCO of International Conference on Biodiversity: Science and Governance“Our generations are undoubtedly the last to have the ability to stop the destruction of the life around us,” declared French President Jacques Chirac today at the opening of the International Conference on Biodiversity: Science and Governance taking place at UNESCO Headquarters from January 24 to 28. Personalities participating include Marc Ravalomanana, President of Madagascar; Abdullah Badawi, Prime Minister of Malaysia; Carlos Gomes Junior, Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau; Wangari Maathai, Nobel peace prize winner and Vice-Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of Kenya; and Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO.
One of the main objectives of the conference, held under the high patronage of Jacques Chirac and Koïchiro Matsuura, is to assess current knowledge and define the needs for research and scientific expertise. According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), more than 7,000 animal species and some 60,000 plant species are threatened. Some scientists estimate that the current rate of extinction is a thousand times greater than at any other time in the course of humanity’s development.
“The staggering progress of science and industry over the past two centuries has placed our societies on a direct collision course with the long timescale of biodiversity,” said Mr. Chirac, adding that “some scientists fear that modern societies may be in the process of bringing about the sixth great wave of extinction since life first appeared on Earth.” The President of France called upon the international community to create an “international group on the evolution of biodiversity” within the framework of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by 170 countries. “I hope that this conference will prove to be a decisive step in this direction,” he added, further stating that “this international effort will contribute to the much-needed reinforcement of world governance of the environment.”
“In the countries of the South, preservation of the environment may come into conflict with the crucial requirements of survival, population pressure and development needs,” Mr. Chirac recognized, suggesting that if it is “intelligently mobilized”, “biological heritage can serve the cause of development.”
President Ravalomanana in turn evoked his country’s natural riches – “In Madagascar, 85 percent of our 12,000 plants are unique in the world” – as well as the threats that face them: over-exploitation, destructive fishing practices, coastal development, sedimentation, marine and land pollution, and coral bleaching. “At the present rate, we predict that more than half of the coral reef areas will be lost in the next 30 years if nothing is done to preserve them,” he explained. He went on to present the “Madagascar, naturally” national plan, founded on the principle that the country’s development “must proceed in a way that gives importance to nature and safeguards it.”
Referring to the gap that “is widening between countries in the North and the South in terms of scientific capacity”, Mr. Ravalomanana stressed the need for “reinforcing the scientific capacities in the South” and on “creating international scientific platforms in the South, associating public and private research, universities, businesses and foundations.” “A global problem needs a global solution,” he concluded.
“This conference is taking place shortly after the painful events that occurred in South Asia….which brutally reminded us to what degree we are vulnerable to, connected to and dependent upon our natural environment and our lifestyles. And that is true on a global scale,” said UNESCO Director–General Koïchiro Matsuura, stressing “the key role that healthy ecosystems play in diminishing the magnitude of such disasters.”
Recalling that as soon as it was founded UNESCO established “a certain number of intergovernmental programmes that mobilize scientists and scientific institutions all over the world on subjects dealing with the diversity of living species, from genes to biospheres,” Mr. Matsuura declared that “The accumulation of knowledge must go hand in hand with the establishment of systems for observing and preventing ecological and social dynamics. That is one of the functions […]of the worldwide network of the MAB (Man and the Biosphere) programme, and […] of the International Geoscience Programme on biodiversity on a geological scale. It is also the role of the coral reef monitoring network, and the early warning alert systems in the ocean established by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), as well as the work carried out on biodiversity in large marine ecosystems (GEM).”
“The preservation of biodiversity is not only the concern of governments. It also concerns international and governmental organizations and the private sector, and every inhabitant of the planet, who must commit to changing deeply-rooted habits and ending destructive behavior,” emphasized United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the message he sent to the Conference. He invited “all governments who have not yet done so to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Protocol on the prevention of biotechnological risks” instruments which, according to the Secretary-General, “play an essential role for the safeguard and sustainable exploitation of biodiversity, as well as for the equitable sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources.”
Photo © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard