EU Issues Plan to Fight Plant, Animal Extinctions
BRUSSELS The European Union laid out a plan on Monday to halt losses of plant and animal species by 2010 as part of a global drive to slow what could be the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out.
The European Commission presented a paper with guidelines for the EU's 25 member states and institutions like the European Parliament on stopping biodiversity loss, which it said was harming efforts to boost economies and improve the environment.
"The loss of biodiversity is one of the most important environmental threats that mankind is facing along with climate change," Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a news conference.
The Commission said 43 percent of Europe's native bird species, 45 percent of butterflies, 45 percent of reptiles and 52 percent of freshwater fish faced extinction in Europe alone.
Its plan, which did not include new legislation, covered financing, decision-making, and promoting awareness, the Commission said in a statement.
Worldwide, an area of tropical rainforest larger than the EU has been destroyed since the 1970s, mostly for timber, crops such as palm oil and soybean, and cattle ranching, it said.
"Species' extinction rates are now around 100 times greater than those shown in fossil records and are projected to accelerate, threatening a new 'mass extinction' of a kind not seen since the disappearance of the dinosaurs" 65 million years ago, it added.
Environmental group Greenpeace said the EU's plans were not sufficient to confront threats ranging from expanding cities to climate change, widely blamed on emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.
"The EU needs to do more than document and monitor the loss of biodiversity; it needs to review its own destructive policies for their part in the crisis, and take drastic measures to revise them," Greenpeace's Sebastien Risso said in a statement.
EU nations agreed in 2001 to "halt the loss of biodiversity" on the continent by 2010 -- tougher than a global goal set in 2002 of "a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss" by 2010.
On Monday the United Nations also said global warming posed mounting threats to drylands, which cover more than 40 percent of the planet's land area and include grasslands and savannahs from Australia to North America.
"The impact of climate change is emerging as an unprecedented challenge to all life in drylands," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.
"For the more than one billion people affected by drought and desertification, adaptation to climate change will be a matter of survival," he added.
"The degradation of drylands...is having dramatic effects: some 2,300 species endangered or facing extinction, significant losses in agricultural output, and an economic cost estimated at more than $42 billion a year," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement.
May 22 is an annual day to mark biological diversity. The United Nations chose to focus on drylands in 2006.
(additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo)