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UN fears ‘irreversible’ damage to natural environment

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 10, 2010 11:04 EDT
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GENEVA — The UN warned on Monday that “massive” loss in life-sustaining natural environments was likely to deepen to the point of being irreversible after global targets to cut the decline by this year were missed.

As a result of the degradation, the world is moving closer to several “tipping points” beyond which some ecosystems that play a part in natural processes such as climate or the food chain may be permanently damaged, a United Nations report said.

The third “Global Biodiversity Outlook” found that deforestation, pollution or overexploitation were damaging the productive capacity of the most vulnerable environments, including the Amazon rainforest, lakes and coral reefs.

“This report is saying that we are reaching the tipping point where the irreversible damage to the planet is going to be done unless we act urgently,” Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, told journalists.

Djoghlaf argued that extinction rates for some animal or plant species were at a historic high, up to 1,000 times those seen before, even affecting crops and livestock.

(Picture atop article depicts the tiny Kihansi Spray Toad, which once numbered at least 17,000 in Tanzania)

The UN report was partly based on 110 national reports on steps taken to meet a 2002 pledge to “significantly reduce” or reverse the loss in biodiversity.

Djoghlaf told journalists: “There is not a single country in the world that has achieved these targets, we continue to lose biodioversity at unprecedented rate.”

Three potential tipping points were identified.

Global climate, regional rainfall and loss of plant and animal species were harmed by continued deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the report said.

Many freshwater lakes and rivers were becoming contaminated by algae, starving them of oxygen and killing off fish, affecting local livelihoods and recreation for local populations.

And coral reefs were collapsing due to the combined blow of more acid and warming oceans, as well as overfishing, the UN found.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) director general Achim Steiner underlined the economic value and returns of “natural capital” and its role in ensuring the health of soil, oceans and the atmosphere.

“Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to the contemporary world,” Steiner said.

“The truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050.”

The report argued that biodiversity was a core concern for society that would help tackle poverty and improve health, meriting as much attention as the economic crisis for only a fraction of the cost of recent financial bailouts.

It advocated a new strategy to tackle the loss alongside more traditional steps such as the expansion of protected natural areas and pollution control.

They included attempts to regulate land consumption, fishing, increased trade and population growth or shifts, partly through a halt to “harmful” or “perverse” subsidies.

The issues raised by the report are due to be discussed at a UN biodiversity meeting in Japan in October.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
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