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Daily Archives: April 24, 2009

Stronger commitment on protecting biodiversity

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The environment ministers of rich and emerging nations sought new commitments to stopping biodiversity loss even with resources hit hard by the global financial crisis.
Ministers from 16 leading economies – the G8 countries, plus China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea and Egypt – were expected to agree a "Syracuse Charter" spelling out ways to reinforce and extend a goal first set in 2002 to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010.
The delegates will pledge "to ensure that the current deep economic crisis does not translate into a reduction in resources for the protection of biodiversity," according to a draft obtained by AFP.
The Syracuse Charter will provide a "new stimulus" by viewing biodiversity "no longer as a limitation but as a resource and as an opportunity for development," host Italy said in a statement at talks focusing mainly on global warming.
"Among both environmentalists and entrepreneurs, awareness is building of the commercial potential stemming from protection of biodiversity," according to guidelines to delegates in Syracuse.
"Even with modest support from private capital, the contribution of the business of biodiversity to intrenational trade and to each country's national output could be huge," the guidelines said.
Noting that the global financial crisis is spurring major infrastructure projects to create employment, the document also warns that "such investments … are the main cause of negative effects on the natural environment."
Climate change is a growing threat to biodiversity at a time when a quarter of all animal and plant species may be at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Species are becoming extinct at a dizzying rate – between 100 and 1,000 times the natural pace of extinction – scientists say.
The cost of bailing out financial institutions during the economic meltdown, while huge, pales in comparison to the lost value caused every year by ecological damage to the environment, they say.
The three-day meeting in Sicily brings together countries responsible for more than 40 percent of the world's carbon gas emissions.
The United States and China each use up about a fifth of total global biocapacity, but US per capita consumption is much higher.
The administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, was expected in Syracuse yesterday on her first international trip in the job.
The G8 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The G8 is one of several forums on the way to a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December aimed at sealing an international pact for curbing greenhouse gases beyond 2012.
The G8 ministers have been joined by their counterparts from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, South Korea and Egypt.
The Czech Republic — current holder of the rotating European Union presidency – plus the European Commission and Denmark as host of the upcoming Copenhagen conference are also attending the talks.
The UN goal is either to halve emissions compared with a benchmark year, or to peg temperature increases below 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.
Activists planned a protest later yesterday, but far from the heavily secured G8 venue, the medieval Maniace Castle at the tip of a peninsula jutting off Syracuse.
The protest will denounce "the environmental disasters for which the meeting participants are responsible, who are part of the problem, and certainly not part of the solution," a Contro-G8 (Against G8) group said in a statement.
"The logic of profit that they defend as a system of social control is bringing our planet to environmental self-destruction."

ANC claims ‘strong mandate’ in South Africa polls

South Africa's ruling African National Congress yesterday claimed a "strong mandate" in general elections set to hand its popular but controversial leader Jacob Zuma the presidency.
With early returns giving the ANC a 65 percent lead, the party announced that it would block off downtown Johannesburg streets around its offices for Zuma to address his supporters in the evening to celebrate victory.
"The ANC invites fellow South Africans to attend this celebration to share the joy of having achieved a strong mandate to consolidate the gains made during the past 15 years," it said in a statement in Pretoria.
"The ANC thanks millions of South Africans for casting their vote, giving the ANC a renewed mandate to deliver on key priorities outlined in the election manifesto."
The final tally was still hours away, but the ANC held a commanding lead over its near rivals, as voters apparently overcame doubts about Zuma's integrity stemming from corruption charges dropped just two weeks ago.
The threat posed by a breakaway group, the Congress of the People (COPE), appeared to have fizzled, with the splinter party formed by supporters of former president and Zuma rival Thabo Mbeki taking about eight percent.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance was at about 18 percent.
The ANC was also leading the ballots cast in nine provinces, though it was trailing the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located.
The main question now was whether the ANC would win another two-thirds majority, which allows the party to change the constitution at will.
"The debate was always whether the ANC was going to get two thirds or fall below the two thirds threshold. They were always going to win," analyst Ebrahim Fakir of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa told AFP.
"At this stage the race for second and third, which is what really I think everyone was really watching over the past two days, is far from settled," Fakir said, adding that COPE's performance had been less than expected.
A record 23 million people registered to vote at nearly 20,000 polling stations with turnout so heavy that authorities reported ballot shortages and overflowing boxes.
The long lines of voters recalled images of South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became president following the end of apartheid.
Despite the public enthusiasm for the polls, with turnout initially estimated at 77 percent, The Star newspaper cautioned that South Africa faced immense challenges made more difficult in the global economic crisis.
"Millions of our citizens remain mired in poverty, our health services are inequitable and our education system is a national tragedy," it said.
"We have heard the campaign talk – now we want a new patriotism and action."