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Environment

Countries adopt 'Kunming Declaration' to protect biodiversity

China says move shows 'political will,' but critics call for urgent action

Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu said at a U.N. Biodiversity Conference that the Kunming Declaration they adopted was a document of political will and not a binding international agreement.

KUNMING, China (Reuters) -- More than 100 countries pledged on Wednesday to put the protection of habitats at the heart of their government decision-making but they stopped short of committing to specific targets to curb mass extinctions.

Chinese Environment Minister Huang Runqiu told delegates to a U.N. Biodiversity Conference in the city of Kunming that the declaration they adopted was a document of political will not a binding international agreement.

The Kunming Declaration calls for "urgent and integrated action" to reflect biodiversity considerations in all sectors of the global economy but crucial issues -- like funding conservation in poorer countries and committing to biodiversity-friendly supply chains -- have been left to discuss later.

With plant and animal species loss now at the fastest rate in 10 million years, politicians, scientists and experts have been trying to lay the groundwork for a new pact on saving biodiversity.

In a previous agreement signed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010, governments agreed on 20 targets to try to slow biodiversity loss and protect habitats by 2020, but none of those targets was met.

Some environmental activists have complained that disagreement over the wording of the declaration had diverted delegates' attention when urgent action was needed.

A first draft of the declaration, released in August, included political slogans associated with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which caused tension and underlined what some critics said was China's inexperience in shepherding international agreements through to conclusion.

After feedback from more than 40 countries, Xi's slogan "lucid waters and lush mountains" was removed from the text, though the Chinese concept of "ecological civilisation" was retained.

There were complaints, particularly from Japan, that such language lacked clarity, and that China had pushed the declaration through without sufficient discussion, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

"Basically they felt that there had been insufficient time for consultation on some of the declarations," said Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist attending the talks on behalf of the Beijing-based China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.

Huang told delegates that China had followed the same procedures used to adopt previous biodiversity agreements.

However, Li Shuo, senior climate adviser with environment group Greenpeace, said it remained to be seen whether China had the experience to drive through a new pact during a second phase of talks next year.

"Our global biodiversity crisis is urgent but so far the Convention on Biological Diversity's progress has been too slow," he said.

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