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bringing you the latest news, information and analysis from
international environment and sustainable development negotiations





This page was updated on: 01/13/10






The Precautionary Principle stands at a nexus where trade, development, food security and conservation interests often clash. This has prompted a consortium of conservation organisations, under the umbrella of IUCN, to launch a project examining the role of the precautionary principle in natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.


IUCN's Species Survival Commission, its Regional Office for Southern Africa and the Environmental Law Centre have combined with Fauna & Flora International, Resource Africa and TRAFFIC International to implement the first phase of the project entitled "Environmental Governance: Employing the Precautionary Principle in Natural Resource Management and Biodiversity Conservation." The project held a meeting at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and over the next 12 months will be carrying out a situation analysis, with particular emphasis on the timber and fisheries industries. It further plans to develop several communications products, including a precautionary principle website, and secure support for the second phase of the project. The project will carry out cases studies in the field of natural resource management, taking into account, in particular, the perspectives of developing countries.


Links to further information

Barney Dickson, Acting Project Coordinator





The US has joined 76 other countries and the European Community in signing the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Treaty aims at the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources, and equitable benefit-sharing for sustainable agriculture and food security. It will enter into force once ratified by 40 countries.

The US and Japan were the only countries who had abstained from voting during the Treaty's adoption on 3 November 2001.


Links to further information

Environment News Service, 6 November 2002

List of signatures and ratifications



On the eve of CITES COP-12, the African elephant range States met in an effort to build an African consensus regarding the proposals from Botswana, Namibia, South African and Zimbabwe for one-off sales of existing legal ivory stocks, to be followed later by annual export quotas. The proposals plan to finance elephant conservation programmes and benefit local communities from the income of the sales.

As a result of the discussions, most African range States, with the exception of Kenya, agreed to strictly regulated export quotas totaling 70 tons of raw ivory from existing stocks of the four abovementioned countries. Annual quotas would be established only after monitoring systems provide feedback and have been authorized at a future meeting of the African range States. Kenya and India have submitted a proposal to maintain the ban on ivory trade, expressing concerns about illegal poaching and illegal ivory trade, and noting that the two monitoring systems for tracking such activities are not yet fully operational.


Links to further information

CITES Secretariat press release, 2 November 2002


MAY 2002



The International Day for Biological Diversity, celebrated on 22 May, focused on forests. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which now has 183 Parties, was agreed 10 years ago. On the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called governments that have not yet done so to ratify the Convention and its Biosafety Protocol. He called biological diversity "one of the pillars of human life," noting that it stabilizes the Earth's climate, renews soil fertility and provides goods and services that contribute to material well-being. Klaus Töpfer, UNEP's Executive Director, stressed that forests "are also vital to the health and well-being of people, in particular those who live in or around forests." CBD Executive Secretary Hamdallah Zedan noted that forests "provide a wide range of economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits and services," and that "by conserving and sustainably using these invaluable ecosystems we can also contribute to the goals of social equity and economic development."


Links to further information

CBD Secretariat website

UN press release, 14 May 2002



MARCH 2002



Countries around the Caspian Sea will be allowed to export caviar again, a move that has caused concerns among some environmental groups. The announcement of the resumption in trade was made by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and follows the introduction of a unified system to manage sturgeon stocks in the Caspian Sea. The trade was temporarily banned since June 2001 for all states in the region with the exception of Iran. The new management system aims to allow states to trade in a way that will ensure sturgeon numbers remain stable, while also bringing in foreign exchange earnings to the countries around the Caspian Sea, where illegal fishing and corruption threaten the long-term survival of the caviar producing fish.

However, the move has caused concerns among environmental groups. The environmental coalition Caviar Emptor, which consists of SeaWeb, National Resource Defense Council and the Wildlife Conservation Society responded with alarm to the announcement, especially regarding the trade in beluga caviar. According to coalition spokesperson Ellen Pikitch, "the decision to allow continued trade in beluga caviar will take the remarkable, yet critically imperiled beluga sturgeon one step closer to oblivion." One recent study by the Caspian Environment Programme, an internationally funded regional organization, suggests that there has been a 40 percent decline in mature beluga sturgeon in the northern part of the Caspian Sea in the past seven years, and no evidence of mature beluga sturgeon in the middle and southern Caspian.


Links to further information

SeaWeb press statements, 7 and 15 March 2002

Environment News Service, 6 March 2002






Twelve of the world's most biologically diverse nations have launched a joint effort to combat bio-piracy and protect their rights to the genetic resources found on their lands. The alliance, which is formally called the "Group of Allied Mega-Biodiverse Nations," was agreed on 18 February in Cancun, Mexico, and unites Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Venezuela. The agreement reflects a common concern that wealthy nations are "prospecting" for species in order to patent or sell them without offering concessions or benefits to local people. Criticizing the failings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to guarantee the equitable use of genetic resources, the alliance pledged to press its case at the World Summit for Sustainable Development. The alliance will seek new trade rules for patenting and registering products made from their plant and animal resources.


Links to further information

Environmental News Network, 19 February 2002



Concerns over the state of the world's coral reefs have increased still further following the release of several new studies. In the north-east Atlantic, cold water corals - which are not well known to humans - are being damaged by deep-sea fishing trawlers, according to a recent report from the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Scientists have found evidence of trawlers leaving scars up to four kilometers in length through coral reefs. Analyses of commercial catches made by trawlers have also revealed several reef species and pieces of broken coral of up to one square meter in size. The coral reefs, which are off Norway, Scotland and Ireland are estimated to be at least 4500 years old.

Reefs at risk in Southeast Asia: Another coral reef study entitled "Reefs at Risk in Southeast Asia," found that 88 percent of that region's reefs are severely threatened by human activities, specifically overfishing, destructive fishing, sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. "If fishing in Southeast Asia is not reduced to more sustainable levels, both coral reefs and food security will be further imperiled," said Mark Spalding, a co-author of the World Resources Institute report.

Coral Reef hotspots found to coincide with terrestrial biodiversity hotspots: Meanwhile, a third research project has identified the world's top ten coral reef hotspots for the first time. The study, which was published in the international journal, Science, found that eight of the ten coral reef hotspots are located adjacent to a terrestrial biodiversity hotspot. "The phenomenal overlap of the coral reef hotspots and the terrestrial hotspots shows that we're in the right places for lizards and lizardfish alike," said report co-author Tim Werner, Senior Director with Conservation International's Marine Programmes. "The reward for pursuing an integrated conservation strategy for land and sea will be high returns on conservation investments in these regions."


Links to further information

BBC online, 26 February 2002

WRI press release, 14 February 2002

UNEP press release, 14 February 2002






A "widespread crisis" in biodiversity is taking place in North America, according to a report released by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). Entitled The North American Mosaic: A State of the Environment Report, the report presents the first analysis of the overall state of the North American environment. One of the trends documented is the decline in habitat due to pressure from the expansion of transportation, settlement, energy and other human material needs. Half of North America's most biodiverse eco-regions are now severely degraded and the region has at least 235 threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, including the Monarch butterfly and codfish. Commenting on the report, the CEC's Executive Director Janine Ferretti said it "shows that over the past few decades, the loss and alteration of habitat has become the main threat to biodiversity." Multiple factors threatening natural areas include the high visitor numbers, insufficient funds for natural area management, and adjacent developments that turn protected areas into "threatened islands."

In related news, a study published in the journal Nature suggests that current loss of biodiversity could lead to the planet being biologically depleted for millions of years. According to James Kirchner of the University of California at Berkeley, the consequences could extend "not only beyond the lives of our children's children, but beyond the likely lifespan of the entire human species."

Kirchner has analyzed fossil records for long-term trends in rates of extinctions and diversification of species, and found that biodiversity recovers slowly after an event of extinction, implying that there are biological mechanisms that limit diversification of new organisms. Kirchner suggests that this may be due to the fact that extinction eliminates not merely species or groups of species, but removes ecological niches. It takes a long time for species to develop specialized roles, or evolutionary niches, within an ecosystem. The ecosystem must first increase in complexity so there are niches for new organisms to fill, which is likely to be a very complicated process.


Links to further information

NACEC press statement, 7 January 2002

The State of Environment report online

Environment News Service, 3 January 2002


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