From: Reuters
Published May 29, 2008 12:58 PM

U.N. experts warn of economic cost of species loss

By Madeline Chambers

BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Mankind is causing 50 billion euros ($78 billion) of damage to the planet's land areas every year, making it imperative governments act to save plants and animals, a Deutsche Bank official told a U.N. conference.

A study, presented to delegates from 191 countries in the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity on Thursday, said recent pressure on commodity and food prices highlighted the effects of the loss of biodiversity to society.

"Urgent remedial action is essential because species loss and ecosystem degradation are inextricably linked to human well-being," said Pavan Sukhdev, a banker at Deutsche Bank and the main author of the report.

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On top of the current 50 billion euros annual loss from land-based ecosystems caused by factors including pollution and deforestation, the cumulative loss could amount to at least 7 percent of annual consumption by 2050, said the report.

Deforestation, if continued at current levels, would cost some 6 percent of world gross domestic product by 2050, he said.

The idea of the report is to spur action to safeguard wildlife in the way Britain's Stern report sparked action to fight climate change after the economic costs were outlined, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the study proved biodiversity was not just about saving pandas and tigers but underscored the need to preserve natural wealth.

"The report shows we are eating away at our natural capital and making ourselves vulnerable to climate change," he said.

Delegates and environment groups praised the report, entitled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity," saying the figures helped make the case for integrating biodiversity into policy.

Sukhdev will present a second, fuller, report next year.

Delegates at the U.N. meeting are trying to agree on ways to save species which experts say are facing their biggest crisis since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Three species vanish every hour, they say.

"CRUNCH TIME"

The conference ends on Friday and environmentalists warned that much still had to be done, even after 11-days of negotiations on issues like creating and managing protected natural areas, tackling deforestation and invasive species.

"This is crunch time," said WWF Director General Jim Leape. "We're gathered here under urgent circumstances."

Gabriel said progress had been made on a roadmap for rules on access to genetic resources and sharing their benefits.

Sukhdev warned if no action is taken, 11 percent of the earth's natural areas could be lost by 2050, mainly due to farming, infrastructure growth and climate change.

He also said research showed the world's commercial fisheries are likely to have collapsed within 50 years unless trends are reversed. That would be devastating for the 1 billion people who rely on fisheries for protein and could lead to up to $80 billion to $100 billion in income loss for the sector.

The report says assigning just 1 percent of global GDP could achieve significant improvements in air and water quality and human health as well as ensure progress towards climate targets.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, editing by Alister Doyle and Ibon Villelabeitia)

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