As the COP10 biodiversity conference headed into its second week Monday with no sign of accord on the key issues dividing delegates, participants feared the same failure that befell last year's climate change talks in Copenhagen.
"COP10hagen" was the word on the lips of many delegates, those from nongovernmental organizations in particular, as no progress was reported on securing a strong new agreement on access and benefit-sharing (ABS), after negotiators met over the weekend. COP10 negotiators were scrambling to overcome long-held differences Monday afternoon.
With senior ministers from 120 countries, including five heads of state, arriving Wednesday to formalize approval, time was running out for an accord on a final plan.
Concerns of a weak agreement with vague language that would simply postpone critical issues to the next Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in India in 2012 had many participants recalling December's weak Copenhagen accord, which was roundly criticized by delegates.
Three major issues are now the focus of COP10 discussions, which began Oct. 18 and are supposed to conclude Friday. The key issue is securing an agreement for countries to search for genetic organisms on lands often owned by indigenous peoples, and to share the financial benefits with those peoples after the organisms are turned into commercial medicines and other products.
One major area of disagreement is the inclusion of language that would protect the rights of indigenous peoples under a 2007 declaration approved by the U.N. General Assembly. This inclusion of any reference to the declaration is strongly opposed by Canada in particular, as it did not ratify the declaration, but other countries have also expressed reservations.
"In the (introductory) paragraph, there is a sentence being debated that notes the significance of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of the ABS protocol that is being debated. This paragraph is critical because it ensures states will recognize and protect the indigenous peoples' rights, rather than attempt to subject our rights to domestic laws," Debra Harry of the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity said Monday afternoon.
Another concern yet to be resolved is ensuring genetic resources are not stolen and taken back to a user country by setting up checkpoints in user countries. Also, there is the question of how indigenous people's traditional knowledge is recognized in legal terms, so they may be compensated when the data is the basis of research on patented products that come from genetic resources.
"A lot of traditional knowledge is taken and published, with no consent from indigenous peoples and no sharing of financial benefits with local communities where the knowledge originated. Also, developed countries refuse to have obligations in the new agreement to provide a list of checkpoints on the use of genetic material, such as patent offices. But without some kind of minimum compulsory checkpoint listing requirement, the agreement is meaningless," said Yoke Ling Chee of the NGO Third World Network.