Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 1:21 EDT

Humans spur worst extinctions since dinosaurs

March 20, 2006

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) – Humans are responsible for the worst spate
of extinctions since the dinosaurs and must make unprecedented
extra efforts to reach a goal of slowing losses by 2010, a U.N.
report said on Monday.

Habitats ranging from coral reefs to tropical rainforests
face mounting threats, the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention
on Biological Diversity said in the report, issued at the start
of a March 20-31 U.N. meeting in Curitiba, Brazil.

“In effect, we are currently responsible for the sixth
major extinction event in the history of earth, and the
greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared, 65 million years
ago,” said the 92-page Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 report.

Apart from the disappearance of the dinosaurs, the other
“Big Five” extinctions were about 205, 250, 375 and 440 million
years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroid strikes, volcanic
eruptions or sudden climate shifts may explain the five.

A rising human population of 6.5 billion was undermining
the environment for animals and plants via pollution, expanding
cities, deforestation, introduction of “alien species” and
global warming, it said.

It estimated the current pace of extinctions was 1,000
times faster than historical rates, jeopardizing a global goal
set at a 2002 U.N. summit in Johannesburg “to achieve, by 2010,
a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity

“Unprecedented additional efforts’ will be needed to
achieve the 2010 biodiversity target at national, regional and
global levels,” it said. The report was bleaker than a first
U.N. review of the diversity of life issued in 2001.


According to a “Red List” compiled by the World
Conservation Union, 844 animals and plants are known to have
gone extinct in the last 500 years, ranging from the dodo to
the Golden Toad in Costa Rica. It says the figures are probably
a big underestimate.

“The direct causes of biodiversity loss — habitat change,
over-exploitation, the introduction of invasive alien species,
nutrient loading and climate change — show no sign of
abating,” the report said.

Despite the threats, it said the 2010 goal was “by no means
an impossible one.”

It urged better efforts to safeguard habitats ranging from
deserts to jungles and better management of resources from
fresh water to timber. About 12 percent of the earth’s land
surface is in protected areas, against just 0.6 percent of the

It also recommended more work to curb pollution and to rein
in industrial emissions of gases released by burning fossil
fuels and widely blamed for global warming.

The report said, for instance, that the annual net loss of
forests was 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) — an area
the size of Panama or Ireland — from 2000-2005. Still, the
figure was slightly less than 8.9 million hectares a year from

And it said that annual environmental losses from
introduced pests in the United States, Australia, Britain,
South Africa, India and Brazil had been estimated at more than
$100 billion.

About 300 “invasive species” — molluscs, crustaceans and
fish — have been introduced to the Mediterranean from the Red
Sea since the late 19th century when the Suez Canal opened.

It gave mixed overall marks for progress on four key goals.

It said there was “reasonable progress” toward global
cooperation but “limited” advances in ensuring enough cash and
research. It estimated that annual aid to help slow
biodiversity losses sank to $750 million from $1 billion since

And it said there was “far from sufficient” progress in
better planning and implementation of biodiversity decisions
and a “mixed” record in better understanding of biodiversity.

Source: reuters