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  PlanetArk 23 May 07
UN Urges World to Slow Extinctions: 3 Each Hour
Story by Alister Doyle

PlanetArk 22 May 07
Animals, Plants Under Threat From Global Warming

UNEP 22 May 07
The 2010 Climate Change Challenge
Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General
and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme on climate change and biodiversity

With less than three years remaining, the 2010 target to reverse the rate of biodiversity loss looks increasingly elusive. If anything, the rate of extinction is accelerating.

In 2005 the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that 60 per cent of the world's ecosystems are in decline. Last year, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species revealed that two out of five species known to science could face extinction, including one in eight birds, a quarter of all mammals and one-third of amphibian species.

Now this year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report has confirmed that global warming is affecting biological systems around the globe, with between 20 and 30 per cent of plant and animal species facing increased risk of extinction as global average temperatures rise.

These estimates do not include the myriad life forms yet to be catalogued, whose role in the finely tuned balance of ecosystems, or whose value to human society as sources of medicines, foodstuffs or other uses, may never be known.

That, ultimately, is the tragedy of extinction.

Unlike some other types of ecosystem degradation, extinction cannot be reversed. Once a species has gone, it is gone forever.

Reversing the decline in biological diversity will increasingly depend on how successful we are at slowing global warming.

As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment states: "By the end of the century, climate change may be the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss and changes to ecosystem services globally."

Recognizing the growing severity of the problem, and the need for more awareness and action, the Convention on Biological Diversity has chosen Biodiversity and Climate Change as the theme for International Biodiversity Day 2007.

If we do not stop the climate juggernaut, many, if not all, of the other strategies for protecting increasingly threatened species and habitats will be doomed to failure.

As an example, a recent study has shown that amphibian and reptile populations in the La Selva lowland forest reserve in Costa Rica have declined by 75 per cent in the past 35 years.

The significance of the findings is that this area is devoted principally to these species' protection. The researchers' conclusion is that climate change is to blame.

Elsewhere in the world tropical forests continue to be felled at an alarming rate--for timber, subsistence and industrial agriculture, and, increasingly, for crops such as soya and palm oil to feed the growing global demand for biofuels.

This is bad news both for biodiversity and for the climate.

A UNEP report, released in February 2007, entitled The Last Stand of the Orangutan: State of Emergency found that rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia is being felled so quickly that 98 per cent could be gone by 2022.

As well as spelling doom for the orangutan and countless other species, such destruction contributes directly to global warming, accounting for up to 20 per cent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, the value of tropical forests for carbon sequestration--estimated by some economists at tens or even hundreds of billion of dollars a year--is also in decline. The world lost 5 per cent of the carbon storage capacity of its forests in the first five years of this century alone.

It therefore stands to reason that protecting existing tropical forests must be recognized as a priority, both for biodiversity conservation and for mitigating climate change.

Unfortunately, there are currently few, if any, economic incentives for protecting forests, and many for destroying them.

For instance, under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, the only truly global instrument for combating climate change, countries can receive credits for planting new woodland, but there is no incentive for protecting existing forests. This has to change.

Later this year, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Bali to continue negotiating the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. It is imperative that these negotiations provide strong incentives to countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to conserve their forests.

Businesses the world over are also looking for clear signals from governments that the Kyoto mechanisms will continue post-2012 and be built on. Emissions reduction regimes, carbon trading and other strategies for mitigating climate change demand a long-term view from governments and investors alike.

I firmly believe that protecting tropical forests can form a keystone of a new carbon trading regime, as well as providing a wide variety of business opportunities--to the benefit of the global climate and of species and habitat protection.

Climate change is emerging as the single greatest threat to biodiversity. This reality serves an extra reminder of the importance of pursuing the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 2010 target with renewed vigour and commitment.

PlanetArk 22 May 07
Animals, Plants Under Threat From Global Warming

INTERNATIONAL May 22 is the UN's International Day for Biological Diversity, focused in 2007 on how global warming may drive many species of animals and plants to extinction. Following are facts about the diversity of life on earth:

* Scientists have no clear idea of how many species -- from algae to blue whales -- live on earth. Estimates range from about 5 to 100 million. There are about 1.8 million named species so far.

* Humans are responsible for the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, according to a UN report in March 2006. It blamed destruction of habitats, expanding cities, pollution, deforestation, global warming and the introduction of "invasive species".

* "Climate change is forecast to be become one of the biggest threats to biodiversity," the UN Convention on Biological Diversity said in a statement marking May 22.

* "Approximately 20-30 percent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at greater risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5 to 2.5 Celsius" (2.7 to 4.5 Fahrenheit), according to a report in April 2007 by the UN climate panel. Beyond that, it said ecosystems would face ever more wrenching changes.

* World leaders agreed at a 2002 UN summit in Johannesburg to "achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth."

* A global "Red List" of endangered species documents about 800 extinctions since 1500, from the flightless dodo to the Golden Toad of Costa Rica. Experts believe the real number is far higher.

* About 12-13 percent of the world's land area is in protected areas but only about 0.5 percent of the seas.

PlanetArk 23 May 07
UN Urges World to Slow Extinctions: 3 Each Hour
Story by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO - Human activities are wiping out three animal or plant species every hour and the world must do more to slow the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs by 2010, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Scientists and environmentalists issued reports about threats to creatures and plants including right whales, Iberian lynxes, wild potatoes and peanuts on May 22, the International Day for Biological Diversity.

"Biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. Global warming is adding to threats such as land clearance for farms or cities, pollution and rising human populations.

"The global response to these challenges needs to move much more rapidly, and with more determination at all levels -- global, national and local," he said.

Many experts reckon the world will fail to meet the goal set by world leaders at an Earth Summit in 2002 of a "significant reduction" by 2010 in the rate of species losses.

"We are indeed experiencing the greatest wave of extinctions since the disappearance of the dinosaurs," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, perhaps after a meteorite struck.

"Extinction rates are rising by a factor of up to 1,000 above natural rates. Every hour, three species disappear. Every day, up to 150 species are lost. Every year, between 18,000 and 55,000 species become extinct," he said. "The cause: human activities."


A "Red List" of endangered species, however, lists only 784 species driven to extinction since 1500 -- ranging from the dodo bird of Mauritius to the golden toad of Costa Rica.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, manager of the list compiled by the World Conservation Union grouping 83 governments as well as scientists and environmental organisations, said the hugely varying figures might both be right, in their way.

"The UN figures are based on loss of habitats, estimates of how many species lived there and so will have been lost," he told Reuters. "Ours are more empirical -- those species we knew were there but cannot find."

UN climate experts say global warming, blamed mainly on human use of fossil fuels, will wreck habitats by drying out the Amazon rainforest, for instance, or by melting polar ice.

The World Conservation Union also said that one in every six land mammals in Europe was under threat of extinction, including the Iberian lynx, Arctic fox and the Mediterranean monk seal.

"The results of the report highlight the challenge we currently face to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010," European Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.

Europe's goal is to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, tougher than the global target of slowing losses.

Another report by a group of farm researchers said that global warming may drive many wild varieties of plants such as potatoes and peanuts to extinction by mid-century, wiping out traits that might help modern crops resist pests or disease.

The WWF conservation group and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said that whales, dolphins and porpoises were "facing increasing threats from climate change" because of factors such as rising sea temperatures.

A survey in Britain said climate change might actually help some of the nation's rare wildlife and plants -- such as the greater horseshoe bat and the turtle dove -- to spread to new areas even as others faced threats to their survival.

International Day for Biological Diversity website

Related articles on Global issues: biodiversity loss and forests
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