NAGOYA, Japan Ministers from around the world began on Wednesday a final push for a U.N. deal to protect nature, urged by the World Bank to value the benefits of forests, oceans and rivers on economies and human welfare.
Senior officials from nearly 200 countries have gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to set new goals for 2020 to fight animal and plant extinctions after they missed a goal for a "significant reduction" in losses of biological diversity by 2010.
The meeting hopes to push governments and businesses to commit to sweeping steps to protect ecosystems under threat, such as forests that clean the air, insects that pollinate crops and coral reefs that nurture valuable fisheries.
World Bank head Robert Zoellick, speaking at the start of a three-day session of mostly environment ministers, said finance ministers and businesses also needed to take note of the value that nature provides for food, medicines, tourism and industry.
"Productivity of the land and seas is diminishing, and with them the ecosystem services that are crucial for people to get out of poverty," he said. "Endangered species are fading away forever before our very eyes."
Envoys have been negotiating since last week for agreement on the new 2020 target and a 20-point strategic plan that aims to protect fish stocks, fight the loss and degradation of natural habitats and conserve larger land and marine areas.
But countries have been split on the level of ambition and have bickered over who will pay for the efforts. Current funding for fighting biodiversity loss is about $3 billion a year but some developing nations say this should be increased 100-fold.
Japan, chair of the talks, offered $2 billion to developing countries over three years from 2010, but it was unclear if Europe would match the efforts.
The United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity and is taking part in the Oct 18-29 talks only as an observer.
"We haven't really come here with a mindset of a pledging conference," Karl Falkenberg, head of the European Commission's environment department, told a news conference. "Europe, over the last eight years, has spent 1 billion euros annually already."
Poor countries have refused to sign up to 2020 conservation targets without more funding and agreement on a new U.N. protocol that would give them a fairer share of profits made by companies, such as pharmaceutical firms, from their genetic resources.
Developing countries could gain billions of dollars from the so-called access and benefit-sharing (ABS) protocol but envoys are divided over issues such as the scope of the pact and some businesses are worried about potential higher costs.
The plight of nature was highlighted in a study by more than 170 scientists showing that about a fifth of the world's vertebrates are threatened with extinction. They used data for 25,000 species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.
Brazil stressed the need to seal a deal, urging compromise and flexibility.
"We are all tired of endless meetings which just postpone the solutions for the problems. We are also tired of decisions which are dissociated from real life," Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira told the meeting.
"In the last 10 days, we had time enough to see the difference that separate us. We have now only three days to see what unites us."
(Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)