Scientists Raise Alarm as Biodiversity Loss Surges

16 October 2009

An alarming increase in the extinction of animal species has made it unlikely that UN targets to stem biodiversity loss will be achieved, according to scientists attending a biodiversity conference in South Africa.

The targets - which aimed to achieve "a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss" by 2010 - were set at the 2003 Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. But experts attending last week's Open Science Forum, hosted by the Paris-based biodiversity organisation DIVERSITAS, said that world leaders have failed to stop threats posed by pollution, climate change, and urban sprawl that are threatening biodiversity.

The worst affected species, according to the scientists, are those that are dependent upon freshwater sources, such as fish, turtles, frogs, and crocodiles. These species are six times more likely to become extinct than other animals.

"There is clear and growing scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major freshwater biodiversity crisis," says Klement Tockner of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin. "However, few are aware of the catastrophic decline in freshwater biodiversity at both local and global scale. Threats to freshwater biodiversity have now grown to a global scale."

Experts from the UN Environment Programme's The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - or TEEB - initiative also drew attention to the broader economic impacts associated with the loss of biodiversity in threatened ecosystems, such as forests and coral reefs.

Pavan Sukhdev, who heads up TEEB, said a single hectare of coral reef provides an average of US$130,000 in annual services to humans - adding that the number could go as high as US$1.2 million. Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at US$172 billion. "Investment in protected areas holds exceptional high returns," Sukhdev said.

As the 13-16 October meeting came to a close, some 600 scientists in attendance issued a concluding statement. "As we approach the 2010 Year of Biodiversity...the fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate," the statement reads. "It is clear that biodiversity loss erodes the integrity of ecosystems and their capacity to adapt in a changing world. It represents a serious risk to human wellbeing and a squandering of current assets and future opportunities."

The goal of the Cape Town Forum is to help establish new goals to curtail extinction rates, which the scientists say are much higher than had been predicted only a few years ago.

ICTSD Reporting; "New fears for species extinctions," BBC NEWS, 11 October 2009; "Biodiversity Loss Accelerating, UN Target Will Be Missed," ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, 13 October 2009.

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