World is off-track on biodiversity goals: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The world’s countries are bankrupting their natural economies and must take bold action to reverse biodiversity losses caused by pollution, deforestation and climate change, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a U.N. summit on Wednesday.

World leaders at the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering sought to energize a global effort on biodiversity -- the preservation of animal and plant species -- before U.N. talks in Japan next month to agree on a formal plan.

At a mini-summit on the issue, Ban said the world would fail to reach a 2010 goal of making a “significant reduction” in biodiversity losses.

“Last year’s financial crisis was a wake-up call to governments on the perils of failing to oversee and regulate complex relationships that affect us all. The biodiversity crisis is no different,” Ban said.

“We are bankrupting our natural economy. We need to fashion a rescue package before it is too late,” he said.

The United Nations says the world is facing the worst losses since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago. A quickening pace of extinctions could disrupt food and water supplies for a rising human population, which is on track to reach about 9 billion by 2050.

Half of the earth’s wetlands, 40 percent of its forests and 30 percent of mangroves have been lost in the past 100 years.

It is possible to reverse the degradation of ecosystems over the next 50 years if governments can agree on major changes, the world body says.

“If the destruction of the ecosystem continues at this pace, mankind could eternally lose most of nature’s bounty in the near future,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.

At a news conference on Monday, a group of those calling for tough targets -- including U.S. actor Edward Norton, a U.N. goodwill ambassador -- called on the United States, which has not ratified a 1993 biodiversity convention, to take a stronger leadership position.

Norton said it was “deflating to note that in the last year, countries as chaotic as Iraq and Somalia” had become parties to the convention, “and yet, the United States has apparently not found its way to figuring out how to get that done. And that’s shameful.”

Some nations, such as those in the European Union, want to set a 2020 deadline “to halt the loss of biodiversity,” a target many experts say is out of reach. Poor countries say such a goal would require a 100-fold increase in funds for safeguarding biodiversity, currently about $3 billion a year.

An alternative is to set no firm deadline, merely discussing action by 2020 “toward halting” loss of plant and animal species.

Editing by Peter Cooney