World facing worst extinction rate since dinosaurs

The United Nations on Monday began major negotiations to protect biodiversity and combat losses in animal and plant species that underpin livelihoods and economies.

Ottawa (Oct. 19 2010) - With Canada leading the way, Western nations have largely resisted, according to those involved in the negotiations.

“There has been a lot of reluctance from developed countries like Canada,” said Merle Alexander, a Vancouver lawyer and North American representative for the Convention’s Indigenous Negotiators Group. “It’s been a pretty painful process.”

The United Nations says the world is facing the worst extinction rate since the dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago, a crisis that must 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.

LIFE-SUPPORT

"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.

"It's not helping us if you set a lot of strategic targets and there is no ability or resources to implement them."

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.

"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."

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