The UN Convention of Biological Diversity meets starting Monday, May 19, in Bonn to seek ways to preserve the diversity of animal and plant life in the face of challenges such as pollution and global warming.
While some 200 governments, 5,000 delegates and several heads of state will gather in the German city of Bonn starting Monday to address the future of living species, it's doubtful they will say they can meet a goal set in 2002 to slow the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010.
UN experts say the earth is facing the most severe spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs became extinct. It's estimated that three species vanish every hour, largely as a result of human activity, such as rising populations, pollution and climate change.
"We are at one thousand or even ten thousand times the speed of the natural extinction rate, purely because of human influence," Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister who will open the conference, told Deutsche Welle.
The disappearance of these plant and animal species is not just negative on a philosophical level, experts say, their absence has very real-world effects. If the Pacific yew, a tree or shrub, vanishes, so does an active ingredient in cancer treatment. The bark of the white willow contains a raw material of aspirin.
Some one-half of approved medicines in Germany are based on plant material. On a global scale, it is estimated that 40 percent of world trade involves biological processes and products. Whether food, medicines, nutrients or green energy, without biodiversity they are not possible. Experts say the loss of plant species could be catastrophic for long-term food supplies.
"We hope to give a wake-up to humanity. We need an unprecedented effort to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss," the executive secretary of the UN biodiversity convention, Ahmed Djoghlaf, told Reuters.
He said consumption has reached unsustainable levels and without a change in behaviour, feeding nine billion people, the estimated world population in 2050, would be difficult.
Deforestation -- a huge factor in species loss and global carbon emissions contributing to climate change -- is a central theme of
this year's conference in Bonn, formerly the capital of West German.
One in four mammal species, one in eight among birds, a third of amphibian creatures and 70 percent of all plant life made the most
recent endangered list issued by another UN agency, the World Conservation Union (WCU).
Real economic losses
Experts say the loss of global biodiversity also has tangible effects on the world economy.
Ahead of the UN meeting, Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine quoted from a report which said the destruction of flora and fauna is costing the world two trillion euros ($3.1 trillion) a year, or six percent of its overall gross national product.
The European Union and German environment ministry-led research, entitled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity," will be presented on Monday at the UN conference.
In its edition out Monday, Der Spiegel will present extracts from the paper, with the study's lead author, Pavan Sukhdev, a senior figure with Deutsche Bank in India, writing that "the world's
poor bear the brunt of the cost."
Agreements on conservation
The meeting, which runs for two weeks, will see delegates talking about ways to boost and coordinate "protected areas" to conserve natural habitats. The convention has set a goal to safeguard at least 10 percent of the world's ecological regions in such areas.
The conservation of oceans as well as forests will also be high on the agenda. Some 80 percent of the world's biodiversity is found in forests in tropical regions, experts say, although every minute about 20 hectares (50 acres) of forest disappear.
The negotiations will reach a climax in the last three days when senior government officials from 191 countries, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, join the conference.
"We're at a crossroads with this convention: either we are able to come to concrete and practical results in Bonn that revitalize the convention and see our first successes," said Gabriel. "If we fail here, then the international community has to ask itself why it adopts these conventions in the first place."
Delegates will also seek to make progress on so called "benefit sharing," since developing countries want to be compensated by biotech and pharmaceutical companies eager to tap their natural resources.
Norway's Environment Minister Erik Solheim told Reuters the conference and its aims were something akin to the goal of world peace.
"Even if we don't achieve it fully, it's important to have a target to strive for," he said.
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