“We Are Destroying Life on Earth”: UN Conference Claims


"We are destroying life on Earth," said the head of the U.N. Environment Program on Monday at the start of a major meeting to combat losses in animal and plant species that foster livelihoods and economies. The U.N. cited the worst extinction rate since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, saying it's a crisis that needs to be addressed by governments, businesses and communities.

The image above shows a rare herd of desert elephants in Mali that were ravaged by one of the worst droughts in living memory in 2009, which left water sources at lowest level in the past quarter of a century. The 350 to 450 elephants of Gourma, the northernmost herds still alive in Africa, were forced to trek extreme distances across the fringes of the Sahara to find scarce water. Juveniles were the most affected, as (unlike the bigger bulls) their trunks are not long enough to reach deep into wells – one of the only remaining water sources.

A U.N.-backed study this month said global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 totaled $6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11 percent of global gross domestic product.

However, despite the U.N.'s fear that biodiversity may be at risk, scientists over the past decade have identified new species at an unprecedented rate. The 2008 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study First Contact in the Greater Mekong reported that 1,068 species were discovered or newly identified by science between 1997 and 2007 — averaging two new species a week. And the Census of Marine Life — an ambitious, 10-year project to catalog the diversity of the world's oceans — recently concluded, having identified more than 6,000 potentially new ocean-going species. 

The two-week U.N. meeting faces an uphill battle as it tries to institute sweeping steps to protect and restore ecosystems such as forests, rivers, coral reefs and the oceans that are vital for an ever-growing human population. Issues of funding says Reuters will be a key problem delegates will need to iron out — both who pays for the program and who reaps the rewards of the world's biodiversity.

Developing nations say more funding is needed from developed countries to share the effort in saving nature. Much of the world's remaining biological diversity is in developing nations such as Brazil, Indonesia and in central Africa.

"Especially for countries with their economies in transition, we need to be sure where the (financial) resources are," Eng. B.T. Baya, director-general of Tanzania's National Environment Management Council, told Reuters.

"If our planet is to sustain life on Earth in the future and be rescued from the brink of environmental destruction, we need action by governments to protect our oceans and forests and to halt biodiversity loss," said Nathalie Rey, Greenpeace International oceans policy adviser.

Another area of contention: how to deal with the economic benefits of biodiversity, notably the success of big pharmaceutical companies. The conference will try to set rules on how and when companies and researchers can use genes from plants or animals that originate in countries mainly in the developing world.

Developing nations want a fairer deal in sharing the wealth of their ecosystems and back the draft treaty, or "access and benefit-sharing" (ABS) protocol. For poorer nations, according to Reuters, the protocol could unlock billions of dollars — but some drug makers are wary of extra costs, squeezing investment for research while complicating procedures such as applications for patents.

"We are nearing a tipping point, or the point of no return for biodiversity loss," Japanese Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto told the meeting. "Unless proactive steps are taken for biodiversity, there is a risk that we will surpass that point in the next 10 years."

Casey Kazan via reuters.com





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