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Protests Around the World Mark World Biodiversity Day

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, (ENS) - From political leaders to activists to schoolchildren, the world is taking action today - International Biodiversity Day - to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. The focus this year is on protecting the diversity of life in drylands, in keeping with the UN designation of 2006 as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification.

In Montreal, at the headquarters of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf said, "Drylands are teeming with a spectacular parade of unique and well adapted biodiversity. From vast grassland habitats where birds abound, to lush Mediterranean landscapes dominated by endemic succulents, drylands are the cradle of much of the richness of our planet. The Cape Floral Kingdom in South Africa for example, covers less that 0.5 percent of the area of Africa, but accounts for almost 20 percent of the continent's flora."

The government of South Africa today launched its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to guide conservation and management of biodiversity with five primary strategic objectives, activities to realize each these objectives, and five and 15 year timetables to achieve each one.

South African Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk said in a speech today at the International Biodiversity Day Conference in the Eastern Cape that the government would integrate biodiversity considerations into the agricultural, forestry and mining industries. Biodiversity priorities will be included in guidelines and best practice codes to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity, and sustainable production practices will be encouraged.

The South African government will propose a law establishing a National Biodiversity Framework "to ensure an integrated, co-ordinated and consistent approach to biodiversity management by organs of state in all spheres of government, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, local communities, other stakeholders and the public," Van Schalkwyk said.

The European Commission today adopted a Communication which sets out an ambitious policy approach to halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

"The extinction of plants and animals is an irreversible loss to humanity," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "We need to be investing in sustaining the variety of life, in sustaining the health of the ecosystems that in turn underpin our prosperity and well being. We know what needs to be done. The Communication on halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 will help us pull all the actors and resources together so that we meet our commitments."

The Communication identifies four key policy areas ­ biodiversity in the EU, the EU and global biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and the knowledge base. It proposes 10 priority objectives in relation to these, addressing most important habitats and species; actions in the wider countryside and marine environment; making regional development more compatible with nature; reducing impacts of invasive alien species; effective international governance; support to biodiversity in international development; reducing negative impacts of international trade; adaptation to climate change; and strengthening the knowledge base.

The Communication suggests four supporting measures relating to adequate financing, strengthening EU decision-making, building partnerships and promoting public education, awareness and participation. It also creates an advisory mechanism to help decision-makers make better use of existing knowledge.

The government of Brazil publicized a list of Brazilian plants and animals that may not be patented or trademarked. At a news conference in Brasilia, representatives of the Ministries of Environment, Foreign Affairs and Development, Industry and Commerce said the list will be transmitted to patent offices worldwide with a view to preventing the granting of patents and trademarks involving the unlawful use of names of components of Brazilian biodiversity, such as ocurred in the case of cupuaçu.

Access to this list will provide patent offices with the information necessary to refuse such applications, the officials said.

Brazilian officials with nongovernment partners launched the Brazilian Initiative for Zero Extinctions. The government signed acts establishing two new Extractive Reserves in the Brazilian Amazon where logging is prohibited.

Today, Brazil will also announce its ratification of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels under the Convention on Migratory Species. The government of the Philippines is holding a conference on Wednesday on Restoring Biodiversity in Degraded Habitats: Combating Desertification, Land Degradation, Drought and Poverty.

President Gloria Macapagal­Arroyo said today the Philippines recognizes the importance of managing its natural resources and protecting the environment to improve the quality of life of the present and future generations.

In her address before participants of the first Asia-Pacific Eco-Minds Forum this morning at the Hotel Intercontinental Hotel in Makati City, the President said the efficient management, utilization and protection of the country's environment have been crafted into her administration's Medium Term Development Plan.

She said the government is replanting its mangroves and implementing fish sanctuaries and encouraging intercropping by planting fruit bearing trees and high value vegetables on the floor of forest plantations.

Djoghlaf emphasized the impact of climate change that he said "is emerging as an unprecedented challenge to all life in drylands."

"For the more than one billion people affected by drought and desertification, adaptation to climate change will be a matter of survival," he said.

Forty-seven percent of the Earth's land surface is drylands. This includes semi-arid lands such as the Karoo and the Horn of Africa, savannah landscapes such as the Eurasian steppes and the North American Great Plains, and Mediterranean landscapes. Drylands ecosystems receive very erratic rainfall, and as a result are very fragile.

Djoghlaf called for rapid implementation of the mutually supportive programs of work of the Rio conventions - the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as "the solution to addressing the root causes of desertification and alleviating the escalating risks of famine and disease resulting from the failure of dryland ecosystems."

The implementation of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity is of critical importance to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of halving the rate of poverty in the world by 2015, he said.

In 2005, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, drylands were identified as an essential factor for the achievement of sustainable development as eight of the world's 10 poorest countries contain a majority of drylands.

To mark the International Day for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace activists continued their global actions against U.S. based multinational commodities giant Cargill for clearing the Amazon rainforest to grow soya to feed Europe's farm animals.

This morning, 18 Greenpeacers in Orléans, France, closed down a Cargill owned Sun Valley factory. Many of the million chickens which Sun Valley supplies to supermarkets and fast food restaurants across Europe every week are fed on Amazon soya. In Surrey, UK, Greenpeace dumped nearly four metric tons of soya at the entrance of Cargill's European Headquarters where Cargill managers organize the shipping of hundreds of thousands of tons of Amazon soya to Europe. Several activists chained themselves to a gate to prevent the company's 300 employees gaining access to the site.

Greenpeace Amazon campaign co-ordinator, Thomas Henningsen, said, "Most people have never even heard of this company, but its playing a part in one of the great environmental tragedies of our time. The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth and we need it to stabilize the planet's climate, but this company is trashing the rainforest to grow soya to feed Europe's farm animals."

"We'll stay here until Cargill agrees to a moratorium to stop destroying the Amazon rainforest," said Henningsen. "Until it does, companies like KFC, Tesco and Albert Heijn should avoid buying Cargill's Amazon-fed products."

Today's protests followed a series of protests over the weekend in the Brazilian city of Santarem, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, where Cargill has contructed a soya export facility. On Friday, a team of climbers from the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, shut down the facility.

Cargill workers rammed a Greenpeace inflatable boat and the Arctic Sunrise with their tugboat. Three activists were slightly injured. On Sunday, over a thousand people from Santarem joined Greenpeace and other nongovernmental organizations by marching in the streets of Santarem in protest against Cargilll's destruction of the Amazon.

In Algeria, which is this year's host for United Nations World Environment Day on June 5, the Head Office of the Ministère de l'Aménagement du Territoire et de l'Environnement organized a biodiversity study day at all mosques and Koranic schools on the impact of "man on nature and his role in its protection." Algerian runners participated in a marathon for biodiversity today; a conference on the topic of the International Day for Biological Diversity is being held for students, environment clubs, tourism agencies and associations; and a host of field trips to natural areas are taking place.

A round-table on biodiversity is being held with officials from government departments of Agricultural Services and Forest Conservation, the Environment, Mines and Industries, Tourism, Meteorology, the Office of the Ahaggar National Park, the National Institute of Forest Research, and nongovernmental associations.

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