U.N. experts to say 2010 biodiversity target elusive
By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) - Nearly 200 governments will say next week they are unlikely to meet a target of slowing the rate of extinctions of living species by 2010, a failure which could threaten future food supplies.
Up to 5,000 delegates and some heads of state, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, will try to agree at the Convention of Biological Diversity in the German city of Bonn on ways to save plant and animal species.
U.N. experts say the planet is facing the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago and some say three species vanish every hour as a result largely of human activity causing pollution and loss of habitat.
"We hope to give a wake-up call to humanity. We need an unprecedented effort to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss," convention Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He said consumption had reached unsustainable levels and humans were destroying the foundation of life. Without a change in behavior, feeding up to 9 billion people would be difficult.
A surge in food prices, driven by booming demand in fast-growing economies such as China, has highlighted the problem and experts say the loss of plant species could be catastrophic for long-term food supplies.
Top of the agenda at the two-week meeting, opening on Monday, is an assessment of a U.N. goal set in 2002 to slow the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, which most experts say is nowhere near being met.
Djoghlaf says the latest data, which show more species are being lost more than in the past, is "frightening."
About 2 million species are recorded but some experts believe there could be tens of millions, an unknown which complicates attempts to measure the rate of decline.
"It's a bit like the goal of world peace," said Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim. "Even if we don't achieve it fully, it's important to have a target to strive for."
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel will open the meeting and the haggling will peak in the last three days when senior government officials from 191 countries, including Merkel, will join the conference.
Delegates will try to make progress in talks on establishing rules by 2010 on access to genetic resources and sharing their benefits, important for developing countries and pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms keen to tap natural resources.
They will talk about ways to boost and coordinate "protected areas" to conserve natural habitats. The convention has a goal to safeguard at least 10 percent of the world's ecological regions in such areas.
The conservation of oceans, which has lagged terrestrial protection efforts, will be an important focus as will forests.
About 80 percent of the world's biodiversity is found in tropical forests, yet every minute 20 hectares (50 acres) of forest disappear, say experts.
Participants will address ways of tackling "invasive alien species," creatures often inadvertently moved from their natural habitat by global trade which cause environmental damage and cost economies hundreds of billions of dollars.
"For us, the most important element is to make sure we have the ingredients to give us as a global community confidence we are moving in the right direction," said Djoghlaf.