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Human element of species protection

Hailed as the biological equivalent of the Kyoto climate accord, agreements signed during the UN Convention on Biological Diversity seek to stem the loss of species by protecting the habitats that support them.

It's not easy to steal the show from a wide-eyed panda, but actual people managed to share top billing at an environmental conference in Nagoya, Japan, at the weekend. Hailed as the biological equivalent of the Kyoto climate accord, agreements signed during the UN Convention on Biological Diversity seek to stem the loss of species by protecting the habitats that support them.

But implicit in many of its goals are attempts to link biodiversity to human well-being and, in particular, food security. Such an approach was decades in the making - and long overdue.

Placing food security with conservation is one way to bridge the divide between pragmatism and ideology, a gap that too often derails the most well-meaning policies. Such an approach may be just what the world needed to wake up to the dangers of mismanaging natural resources. Monique Barbut, the CEO of the Global Environment Facility, put it simply: "Achieving poverty reduction requires the recognition of the value of biodiversity."

As Ms Barbut suggested, properly valuing the world's biology may be the best way to conserve it. Delegates from more than 190 nations agreed to increase the area of sea and land under permanent protection by 2020. While the details remain to be worked out, marine reserves are one of the most effective conservation practices to protect fisheries that are the main source of protein for so many people.

The World Bank estimates improper management and unnecessary subsidies cost the global economy a conservative $50 billion (Dh182.5 billion) annually. As countries in the Gulf already know, mismanagement of the natural environment can wreak havoc on traditional food sources - the hammour fishery comes quickest to mind.

Not everyone will be content with the convention's final protocols. Some conservation groups would have preferred more robust targets, and there's always the question of who pays for the protection.

Yet as the failed climate talks at Copenhagen showed last year, sweeping treaties on environmental policy are notoriously complex and fraught with sovereign interests. Incremental steps and clearly defined targets are essential. As the story that unfolded last week in Nagoya suggests, the world is beginning to understand the link between what feeds us and what sustains us.

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