January 11, 2010

UN Names 2010 The International Year of Biodiversity

Launched by the United Nations, the International Year of Biodiversity comes with a warning that the continuing loss of species around the world is disturbing the well-being of humankind, according to BBC News.

A pledge made by government leaders eight years ago to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010 will not be met. One of the main reasons for the failure lies on expansion of cities, farming and the infrastructure of society.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), pushed for government leaders to revitalize their efforts to decrease the loss of biodiversity, even though the 2010 goal will not be reached. The dire importance of the current situation demands that the global community as a whole not only reverse the rate of loss, "but that we stop the loss altogether and begin restoring the ecological infrastructure that has been damaged and degraded over the previous century or so."

The UN expressed that as natural environments such as forests and wetlands perish, humanity loses the benefits they provide for free. Those benefits include purification of our air and water, protection from weather, and the materials they provide for shelter.

The pledge to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss was started in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit when UN leaders agreed on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). However, it was another ten years until the pledge reached global awareness and governments agreed to achieve a "significant reduction" in the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010.

Although there has been some regional success according to conservation organizations, the global target is not going to be met. According to some figures, the actual loss of nature is accelerating rather than decelerating. Some biologists say that we are in the middle of the Earth's sixth great extinction - the previous five stemming from natural events. This time, they say, the blame lies on humankind.

Jane Smart, director of the biodiversity conservation group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told BBC "The loss of this beautiful and complex natural diversity that underpins all life on the planet is a serious threat to humankind now and in the future." There is no doubt that the world is facing an imminent "extinction crisis."

Research is an important step in the fight against biodiversity loss. Forming scientific panels to collate and assess research is also key. According to an on-going UN-sponsored study into the economics of biodiversity, figures show that deforestation alone costs the global economy upwards of five trillion dollars each year.

The UN hopes that at the next CBD summit being held in Japan in October, leaders and scientists can agree on some kind of legally-binding treaty curb the loss of the planet's biological diversity. One protocol that has been long-awaited, will be the procedure under which the genetic resources of financially-poor but biodiversity-rich nations can be exploited in a way that brings benefits to all.

However, there is much skepticism about what kind of legally-binding environmental agreements will be met, based on the lack of interest key countries showed on the issues of climate change at the Copenhagen climate summit last month.

"The big opportunity during the International Year of Biodiversity is for governments to do for biodiversity what they failed to do for climate change in Copenhagen," said Simon Stuart, a senior science advisor to Conservation International and chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

Raising public awareness is also a key factor in the ongoing fight against biodiversity loss. The UN collaborated with the Cameroon football team taking part in the African Nations Cup finals to bring awareness to the public. Special programs and events are also to be held by many environmental organizations to raise awareness as well.

The World Wildlife Fund is highlighting 10 species in 2010 that it considers especially threatened. The list includes the polar bear, monarch butterfly, mountain gorilla and leatherback turtle. You can see the full list by following this link: http://www.worldwildlife.org/species/10towatch2010.html


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