'Humans causing fastest extinctions'
Humans are causing the worst level of extinctions since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago, according to a UN report.
"Changes in biodiversity due to human activities are occurring more rapidly in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, and the direct causes (or drivers) of this loss are either remaining steady, showing no evidence of decline over time, or are increasing in intensity over time," says the Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 report.
The findings are based on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that was completed in 2005 by more than 1,360 scientists working in 95 countries.
"In effect, we are currently responsible for the sixth major extinction event in the history of the earth, and the greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared, 65 million years ago," says the report brought out by the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
Biodiversity is defined as the number of different species of plants, animals and micro-organisms in existence. It also encompasses the specific genetic variations and traits within species as well as the assemblage of these species within ecosystems.
The earth is home to millions of species - estimates range from two to over 10 million - the majority of which have yet to be identified, the study says.
"Even as we begin to understand better what is at stake, genes, species and habitats are rapidly being lost. The first comprehensive assessment of the status of the world's natural resources in terms of their contributions to human life and well-being confirms this," the document says.
During a UN summit in 2002 in Johannesburg it was decided to "achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss". The latest report says the world will have to make unprecedented efforts to achieve that goal.
The rising population, currently pegged at 6.5 billion and projected to be nine billion by 2050, puts an enormous strain on resources.
"Human needs multiplied by a growing world population translate into increasing, and unprecedented, demands on the planet's productive capacity.
"The growing appetite for consumer goods and services beyond the necessities of survival and the wasteful consumption of available resources by the more privileged segment of global society are exacerbating the strain on the earth, with consequences for all," the report says.