Rich nations accused of stifling wildlife treaty: Nicholas Schoon reports on the race to save species from extinction

BRITAIN and other Western countries are undermining the international wildlife conservation treaty signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last year, leading environmental groups claim.

The United Nation's Biodiversity Convention, which calls on countries to protect their richness and diversity of plant and animal species, came into force yesterday. There are thought to be at least 5 million species. But most developed countries have not yet ratified the treaty so it does not apply to them.

Britain has serious doubts about the treaty - believing it gives developing countries, the majority, too much power in deciding how, and how much, money will be spent.

The convention says the rich minority of nations will have to act as financial donors in implementing the treaty within developing countries. They harbour most of the world's wildlife in their forests, savannahs, coral reefs and deserts.

It speaks of the Western world providing 'new and additional financial resources to enable developing countries' to meet the costs of implementing the treaty, such as recording species, setting up reserves and protection schemes.

So grave were Britain's doubts that it almost declined to sign the treaty, but after much lobbying and unfavourable publicity, John Major eventually did so.

However, Britain and several other wealthy nations made a declaration at the time setting out their own interpretations of how financial decisions would be made by the treaty nations. President George Bush refused to sign the treaty for the United States, a decision reversed by Bill Clinton.

The convention became international law yesterday, exactly 90 days after 36 countries had taken the next step from signing and ratified it. Since that 36th ratification - by Mongolia - Spain, Denmark, Portugal and Germany have ratified, bringing the number of developed countries on board to nine.

Groups such as Friends of the Earth and the World Wide Fund for Nature say that without the support of a solid majority of Western nations, the treaty has no chance of slowing the wave of extinctions caused by man. As the human population continues its rapid expansion, up to 100 different plants and animals a day may be becoming extinct - the greatest planetary loss in tens of millions of years.

The Department of the Environment says there is no need to ratify the treaty for months. The first important meeting of treaty nations, the 'conference of parties', will not take place until late November, and if Britain wants to attend, negotiate and vote it will not have to do so until three months beforehand.

Departmental sources say ministers are considering whether Britain should ratify while presenting a further 'interpretive statement' to ensure that developing countries cannot use the treaty as a blank cheque.

In any case, the treaty sets only a loose framework for preserving biodiversity which enables nations to avoid making binding commitments. The qualifying phrase 'as far as possible and as appropriate' appears frequently. Much will depend on gradually altering the treaty by consensus.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory