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Council of war gathers for world's biodiversity crisis

Efforts to save Earth's natural resources kick into high gear next week amid warnings that as little as a decade remains to fend off a species extinction that also poses a threat to humanity.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2012 07:56 IST

Efforts to save Earth's natural resources kick into high gear next week amid warnings that as little as a decade remains to fend off a species extinction that also poses a threat to humanity.

More than 160 countries are meeting in Hyderabad under the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the long-neglected offspring of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

From Monday, a 12-day haggle begins, crowned by a three-day meeting at ministerial level that seeks to reverse a tide of grim news of habitat destruction and species loss.

"Biodiversity has never been in such a poor condition as it is today and is continuing to decline," said Neville Ash, chief of the UN Environmental Programme's biodiversity unit.

"We have a window of 10 to 20 years to address the biodiversity crisis. If we don't, the cost of inaction is going to be greater than any cost of action at this stage."

Nearly half of amphibian species, a third of corals, a quarter of mammals, a fifth of all plants and 13 percent of the world's birds are at risk of extinction, according to the "Red List" compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Last year, scientists warned Earth faced a sixth mass extinction in its four-billion-year history, with repercussions for mankind, too.

The last three decades have seen a 20-percent decline in wild species of plants and animals that humans draw on for food and medicine, said Ash.

Under the Millennium Development Goals, countries pledged to achieve "a significant reduction" in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

But they fell dismally short of the mark. Man continues to over-harvest plants, animals and fish, destroy forests, pollute water sources, plunder the deep seas and spread invasive species.

Seeking to counter the crisis, the last CBD conference in Nagoya, Japan, adopted a 20-point plan in 2010 to turn back biodiversity loss by 2020.

The so-called Aichi Biodiversity Targets include halving the rate of habitat loss, expanding water and land areas under conservation, preventing the extinction of species currently on the threatened list, and restoring at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems.

But finding hundreds of billions of dollars to fund this will be a weighty challenge for many traditional donors.

"Given the economic situation in Europe and elsewhere, it's probably going to be difficult for these countries to provide additional funding," said Rolf Hogan, coordinator of biodiversity policy at green group WWF.

"Some are prepared to make commitments, but probably fairly small ones... not nearly the kind of magnitude of increase in funding that is actually needed."

Francois Wakenhut, the European Commission's biodiversity head, said: "It is clear that the negotiations will stand or fall by financing."

Ash warned that addressing species loss now "is likely to be relatively cheap compared to mopping up once biodiversity has been lost."

CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira De Souza Dias has called for a sense of urgency, saying only about a dozen countries have drafted national biodiversity programmes.

"It is essential that we keep the momentum and put this grand plan in action," pleaded IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre.

The Japan conference also adopted the Nagoya Protocol, a plan for the genetic store held in plants and seeds to be more equitably shared between pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries and communities that had used the plants' medicinal properties for generations.

As conference host, India intends to showcase its work in prosecuting companies for alleged "biopiracy." Hundreds of cases are pending.

"India, with a strong institutional, legal and policy framework, has the potential and capability to emerge as the world leader in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity," Environment minister Jayanti Natarajan told reporters.

First Published: Oct 05, 2012 07:55 IST