Nagoya, Japan: A historic treaty to protect the world's forests, coral reefs and other threatened ecosystems within 10 years was sealed at a UN summit on Saturday following nearly two weeks of intense diplomacy.
Rich and poor nations agreed to take "effective and urgent" action to curb the destruction of nature in an effort to halt the loss of the world's biodiversity on which human survival depends.
Delegates from 193 countries committed to key goals such as curbing pollution, protecting forests and coral reefs, setting aside areas of land and water for conservation, and managing fisheries sustainably.
"This is extraordinary. This is going to give new impetus to the environmental cause," French Secretary of State for the Environment Chantal Jouanno told AFP as delegates were on the verge of adopting the protocol.
Delegates and green groups also said the accord offered hope that the United Nations could help to solve the planet's many environmental problems, particularly after the failure of climate change talks in Copenhagen last year.
"I think it was a really important political exercise for the multilateral system," Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told AFP.
One of the most significant elements of the protocol was a commitment to protect 17 percent of land and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas so that biodiversity there thrived.
Currently only 13 percent of land and one percent of oceans are protected.
Nevertheless, there were still limitations to the Nagoya pact -- including that the United States was not a signatory as it is one of the few countries not to have ratified the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The 20-point plan also was not as ambitious as green groups had hoped, although many still welcomed it as a historic step towards united global action in tackling biodiversity problems and raising awareness about the issue.
The accord was clinched after a last-minute breakthrough on an 18-year stand-off over "fairly" sharing the benefits and knowledge of genetic resource riches that are found mostly in developing countries.
Brazil, home to much of the Amazon basin and its global treasure trove of resources, had insisted throughout the two-week summit that it would not agree to the 20-point strategic plan unless there was also a deal on genetic riches.
Brazil and other developing countries argued powerful nations and companies should not be allowed to freely take genetic resources such as wild plants to make medicines, cosmetics and other products for huge profits.
They had been battling developed countries -- where most of the drug and other companies that enjoy the benefits of genetic resources are based -- over the issue since the CBD was formed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992.
The European Union led developing nations in finally agreeing to the so-called Access and Benefits Sharing Protocol to ensure success on the 20-point strategic plan.
The legally binding protocol will ensure countries with genetic resources enjoy some of profits of the assets' commercial development.
However many details of the protocol, such as how much this may cost pharmaceutical companies and developed nations, were left for later negotiations.
UN chiefs told the opening of the summit that forging a global consensus on protecting nature in Nagoya was vital to stop the mass extinction of animals and plant species that humans depend on to survive.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature warned last year the world was facing its sixth mass extinction phase, the last being 65 million years ago when dinosaurs vanished.
Nearly a quarter of mammals, one-third of amphibians and more than a fifth of plant species now face the threat of extinction, according to the IUCN.
And with the world's human population expected to rise from 6.8 billion to nine billion by 2050, the UN, scientists and environment groups say humans must become better guardians of the environment or face catastrophe.
First Published: Friday, October 29, 2010, 23:49