July 19, 2006

Scientists want global body to conserve biodiversity

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists warned on Wednesday that the
world is on the brink of a major biodiversity crisis and called
for the creation of an international body to advise governments
on how to protect the planet's ecosystems.

"All the scientific evidence points to the fact that
whatever measure of vulnerability you take, whether it is local
populations, species or ecosystem, we know that the rate at
which we are altering them now is faster than it has been in
the past," Georgina Mace said in an interview.

Mace, director of science at the Institute of Zoology in
London, is one of 19 scientists from 13 countries who signed a
declaration published in the journal Nature explaining why an
intergovernmental body is needed.

They said that although all aspects of biodiversity are in
decline and many species are likely to become extinct this
century, the crisis is not given the weight and importance it
merits in public and private decision making.

The new panel would address policy-related issues and get
the best consensus on what the scientific opinion really is.

"It is not telling policy makers what to do. It is giving
them advice about what the consequences of different decisions
will be," Mace added.

The experts, who include Dr Robert Watson, the chief
scientist at the World Bank, suggested that a single global
body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) could speak for the biodiversity science world.

"For the sake of the planet, the biodiversity science
community has to create a way to get organized, to coordinate
its work across disciplines, and together with one clear voice
advise governments on steps to halt the potentially
catastrophic loss of species already occurring," Watson said in
a statement.

The scientists and experts from countries ranging from
China, Chile and Canada to South Africa, Germany and the United
States suggested that the panel should be independent,
transparent and include input from governments, non-government
organizations and the private sector.

They suggested the group be funded by governments and that
it should generate information about trends in biodiversity and
future changes so targets for action can be set.

The scientists said French President Jacques Chirac had
supported the idea at an international conference in January

"The French government is currently funding a consultation
process to assess the need, scope and possible models for an
international mechanism of scientific expertise on
biodiversity," they said in the statement.

The consultations are expected to produce recommendations
within 18 months.