SYRACUSE, Italy - Environment ministers from major rich and developing nations put the final touches on Thursday to an agreement to slow the alarming rate of extinction of species around the world.
Members of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial countries and major developing economies, meeting for a second day on the island of Sicily, discussed a "Syracuse Charter" aimed at extending a deal to slow biodiversity loss by 2010.
"Defending biodiversity can play a key role in the battle against climate change and the reduction of the gap between the world's North and South," said Italian Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo.
Almost every country in the world in 2002 agreed to a "significant reduction" in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. The European Union has set an even tougher goal, of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010, but scientists warn extinctions are gathering pace.
By some calculations, extinction rates are running at 1,000 times their natural pace due to man's influence: three species disappear every hour and between 18,000 and 55,000 species a year, according to U.N. figures.
"The effort made by the international community so far has not been enough, as the loss of biodiversity shows," said Maurizio Gubbiotti of Italian environmental NGO Legambiente. "We need precise, shared actions, concrete and measurable ones."
The Charter, under the slogan "Biodiversity is Business," aims to employ the environment as a tool for development.
CLIMATE TALKS BEGIN
Around 1,000 anti-globalization and environmental demonstrators marched in Syracuse on Thursday under the banner "No G8," but tight security meant they could not pass close to the castle where ministers were meeting. Delegates began closed-door talks on Thursday on climate change, with attention focused on the position of the new U.S. administration which has injected fresh momentum into U.N.-backed negotiations for a new global emissions pact.
U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, overturning his predecessor George W. Bush's refusal to take part in the previous Kyoto deal. But the U.N. official in charge of the Copenhagen talks said on Wednesday that more was needed.
Italy played down hopes of a breakthrough in Syracuse, saying there will be no joint statement on climate change.
"You have to see this as a process and this is one step in a long process," Denmark's Minister for Climate Change and Energy Connie Hedegaard said.
Scientists have said industrialized countries as a whole needed to reduce carbon emissions by between 24 and 40 percent from 1990 levels to avoid severe impact from climate change. The United Nations has set a goal of halving emissions by 2050, but has not set a base year for the comparison.
The G8 meeting grouped for the first time nine developing economies, including Brazil, India and China -- by some calculations the world's largest carbon producer -- in an effort to forge a worldwide consensus. Many delegates called for these economies to also make explicit commitments to cut emissions.
"Big, emerging economies which are growing rapidly and consuming energy, like China or India, must pay a certain share of the reduction in carbon dioxide. Without them the proposal to cut emissions by half by 2050 will be impossible," Nobuo Tanaka, head of the International Energy Agency, told Reuters.
"We need to act urgently, that is probably the most important message that these ministers will deliver to their heads of state," he said.
(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Michael Roddy)