Loss of species hits economy; new U.N. goals needed

OSLO Fri Feb 5, 2010 1:31pm EST

OSLO (Reuters) - Losses of animal and plant species are an increasing economic threat and the world needs new goals for protecting nature after failing to achieve a 2010 U.N. target of slowing extinctions, experts said Friday.

Losses of biodiversity "have increasingly dangerous consequences for human well-being, even survival for some societies," according to a summary of a 90-nation U.N. backed conference in Norway from February 1-5.

The United Nations says that the world is facing the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, driven by a rising human population and spinoffs such as pollution, expanding cities and global warming.

Damage to coral reefs in the tropics, creeping desertification in Africa or felling of the Amazon rainforest were among threats to wildlife and so to human livelihoods.

"Many more economic sectors than we realize depend on biodiversity," the co-chairs of the conference said in their summary.

Apart from food production, less obvious sectors such as tourism, medicines or energy production with biofuels all depended upon nature and diversity of species.

"There is an economic opportunity here," said Finn Kateraas, a co-chair who works at the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, told Reuters. Protecting species can help safeguard long-term economic growth.

The results of the experts conference will help work this year on setting new goals at a U.N. conference on biodiversity in Japan in October.

"SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION"

A U.N. summit in 2002 set a goal of a "significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biological diversity" by 2010. The United Nations says the world has failed.

"Urgent action is needed to address the loss of biodiversity, especially to avoid tipping points," the co-chairs said. Tipping points are thresholds after which damage may be irreversible.

Some coral reefs were on the verge of collapse -- due to factors such as rising sea temperatures, over-fishing or a gradual acidification of the oceans linked to climate change, experts told the conference.

Johan Rockstrom, director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, said human activities had raised the pace of extinctions to 100-1,000 times the background rate over the Earth's history.

Among worrying signs, he said that the Southern Ocean and the Arctic Ocean were projected to become corrosive to aragonite -- the building blocks of coral reefs -- by 2030-60.

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