Many nations lag in plan to slow extinctions by 2020: U.N.

OSLO/SINGAPORE Fri Sep 28, 2012 11:35am EDT

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OSLO/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Many nations need to do more to slow extinctions of animals and plants under U.N. targets for 2020 that would also save the world economy billions of dollars a year, U.N. experts say.

Only a few countries -- including France and Guatemala -- have so far adopted new national plans to tackle threats such as pollution or climate change in line with a sweeping pact agreed in Japan in 2010.

"There is a lot more to do," David Cooper, head of the scientific, technical and technological unit at the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, told Reuters by phone.

Almost 200 nations will meet in Hyderabad, India, from October 8-19 to review progress towards goals to protect life on earth that U.N. reports say is suffering the biggest wave of extinctions since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago.

Governments agreed in 2010 to 20 targets including phasing out damaging subsidies and expanding protected areas, for instance to save valuable coral reefs that are nurseries for fish or to slow deforestation from the Congo to the Amazon.

"There is substantial progress. Is it fast enough to achieve the targets by 2020 for most of them? Probably not overall," Cooper said. Biodiversity is threatened by a projected rise in the human population to 9 billion by 2050 from 7 billion now.

"We need a step up in the activities," he said as part of a series of interviews on the outlook for Hyderabad. Biodiversity underpins everything from food to timber production.

Many other countries, such as Australia, Brazil or China, were making progress. China, for instance, has made big strides in reforestation, Cooper said. The United States is not a member of the CBD.

Nations have also been sluggish in ratifying a protocol laying out rules for access to genetic resources, such as rare tropical plants used in medicines, and ways to share benefits among companies, indigenous peoples or governments.

So far, 92 nations have signed the Nagoya Protocol but just six have ratified, well short of the 50 needed for it to gain legal force. The target is for the protocol to be up and running by 2015.

OVER-OPTIMISTIC

"We were a bit too optimistic," said Valerie Normand, senior programme officer for access and benefit sharing at the CBD, who said the Secretariat had hoped for it to come into force this year. The Secretariat now expected entry into force in 2014.

Cooper said many of the targets set for 2020 would save billions of dollars a year, by ensuring that farming, logging or fishing can be managed sustainably. Some fisheries, for instance, have been exploited to the point of collapse.

In Nagoya, experts estimated that annual funding to safeguard biodiversity totaled about $3 billion a year but some developing countries wanted it raised to about $300 billion.

"These are big numbers but they are trivial compared to the benefits we are getting from biodiversity. If we don't act the costs will be very much greater," Cooper said.

Among concerns, 32 percent of livestock breeds are under threat of extinction within the next 20 years, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says. And 75 percent of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost since 1900.

"Because we don't really know the full impacts of climate change down the line, we don't really know what's going to happen in terms of growing conditions around the world. It's just safer for us to have a lot of these other varieties in our pocket," said David Ainsworth, spokesman of the CBD Secretariat.

Cooper said the pace of extinctions among the planet's estimated 9 million species -- plants, animals from insects to whales but excluding legions of tiny bacteria -- was perhaps 100 times the background rate estimated in fossil records.

"If you project the rates into the future, the rest of the century, they are likely to be 100 times larger still," he said. The rising human population threatens ever more habitats with expanding cities, farms and roads.

Among goals set in 2010 were to increase protected areas for wildlife to 17 percent of the world's land area by 2020 and to raise marine areas to 10 percent of those under national control. In 2010, respective sizes were 12.7 and 4 percent.

"I am optimistic" that the goal can be reached, said Sarat Babu Gidda, the CBD official who oversees protected areas.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; editing by Jason Webb)

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