The 'alarming' rate of nature loss could harm food sources and industry, and exacerbate climate change, UN report warns• World fails to meet target to halt biodiversity decline• Q&A: What is biodiversity and why is it important?
guardian.co.uk, Monday 10 May 2010 11.36 BST
The "alarming" rate at which species are being lost could have a severe effect on humanity, conservationists warned today. Targets set eight years ago by governments to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 have not been met, experts confirmed at a UN meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
The third Global Biodiversity Outlook report said loss of wildlife and habitats could harm food sources and industry, and exacerbate climate change through rising emissions.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of 6 billion [people], heading to over 9 billion by 2050. Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet."
The report confirms what a coalition of 40 conservation organisations said last month, when they claimed there have been "alarming biodiversity declines". The coalition said that pressures on the natural world from development, over-use and pollution have risen since the ambition to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss was set out in the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The first formal assessment of the target, published at the end of April in the journal Science, is the basis of today's formal declaration. This week's meeting will see governments pressed to take the issues as seriously as climate change and the economic crisis.
"Since 1970 we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%," said Prof Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the UNEP.
"These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human wellbeing and sustainable development."
The Science study compiled 30 indicators of biodiversity, including changes in populations of species and their risk of extinction, the remaining areas of different habitats, and the composition of communities of plants and animals.
"Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002: biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems," said Stuart Butchart, the paper's lead author.
"Our data shows that 2010 will not be the year that biodiversity loss was halted, but it needs to be the year in which we start taking the issue seriously and substantially increase our efforts to take care of what is left of our planet."
The failure to meet the CBD target will not be a surprise to experts or policymakers, who have warned for years that too little progress was being made. Last month the head of the IUCN species survival commission, Simon Stuart, told the Guardian that for the first time since the dinosaurs, species were believed to be becoming extinct faster than new ones were evolving.