NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) - The world cannot afford to allow nature’s riches to disappear, the United Nations said on Monday at the start of a major meeting to combat losses in animal and plant species that underpin livelihoods and economies.
The United Nations says the world is facing the worst extinction rate since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, a crisis that needs to be addressed by governments, businesses and communities.
The two-week meeting aims to prompt nations and businesses to take sweeping steps to protect and restore ecosystems such as forests, rivers, coral reefs and the oceans that are vital for an ever-growing human population.
These provide basic services such as clean air, water, food and medicines that many take for granted, the United Nations says, and need to be properly valued and managed by governments and corporations to reverse the damage caused by economic growth.
More resilient ecosystems could also reduce climate change impacts, such more extreme droughts and floods, as well as help fight poverty, the world body says.
“This meeting is part of the world’s efforts to address a very simple fact — we are destroying life on earth,” Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Programme, said at the opening of the meeting in Nagoya, central Japan.
Delegates from nearly 200 countries are being asked to agree new 2020 targets after governments largely failed to meet a 2010 target of achieving a significant reduction in biological diversity losses.
A U.N.-backed study this month said global environmental damage caused by human activity in 2008 totaled $6.6 trillion, equivalent to 11 percent of global gross domestic product.
Greens said the meeting needed to agree on an urgent rescue plan for nature.
“What the world most wants from Nagoya are the agreements that will stop the continuing dramatic loss in the world’s living wealth and the continuing erosion of our life-support systems,” said Jim Leape, WWF International director-general.
WWF and Greenpeace called for nations to set aside large areas of linked land and ocean reserves.
“If our planet is to sustain life on earth in the future and be rescued from the brink of environmental destruction, we need action by governments to protect our oceans and forests and to halt biodiversity loss,” said Nathalie Rey, Greenpeace International oceans policy adviser.
Developing nations say more funding is needed from developed countries to share the effort in saving nature. Much of the world’s remaining biological diversity is in developing nations such as Brazil, Indonesia and in central Africa.
“Especially for countries with their economies in transition, we need to be sure where the (financial) resources are,” Eng. B.T. Baya, director-general of Tanzania’s National Environment Management Council, told Reuters.
“It’s not helping us if you set a lot of strategic targets and there is no ability or resources to implement them.”
Poorer nations want funding to protect species and ecosystems to be ramped up 100-fold from about $3 billion now.
Delegates, to be joined by environment ministers at the end of next week, will also try to set rules on how and when companies and researchers can use genes from plants or animals that originate in countries mainly in the developing world.
Developing nations want a fairer deal in sharing the wealth of their ecosystems, such as medicines created by big pharmaceutical firms, and back the draft treaty, or “access and benefit-sharing” (ABS) protocol.
For poorer nations, the protocol could unlock billions of dollars but some drug makers are wary of extra costs squeezing investment for research while complicating procedures such as applications for patents.
Conservation groups say failure to agree the ABS pact could derail the talks in Nagoya, including agreement on the 2020 target which would also set goals to protect fish stocks and phase out incentives harmful to biodiversity.
Japan, chair of the meeting, said agreement on an ambitious and practical 2020 target was key.
“We are nearing a tipping point, or the point of no return for biodiversity loss,” Japanese Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto told the meeting.
“Unless proactive steps are taken for biodiversity, there is a risk that we will surpass that point in the next 10 years.”
Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by David Fogarty