LONDON - World governments have failed to meet a 2010 target to halt biodiversity loss and action must be taken to preserve the species and ecosystems upon which human life depends, a United Nations report said on Monday.
In a move endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly, more than 190 countries committed in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
But the report said: "There are multiple indications of continuing decline in biodiversity in all three of its main components -- genes, species and ecosystems."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "The consequences of this collective failure, if it is not quickly corrected, will be severe for us all."
Natural habitats in most parts of the world are shrinking and nearly a quarter of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction, said the Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 report.
The abundance of vertebrate species fell by nearly a third between 1970 and 2006 and crop and livestock genetic diversity is declining in farming.
"Biodiversity underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water...Current trends are bringing us closer to a number of potential tipping points that would catastrophically reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide these essential services," said Ban.
The report said there had been significant progress in slowing the rate of loss for tropical forests and mangroves in some regions. But freshwater wetlands, sea ice habitats, salt marshes and coral reefs all show serious decline.
FOOD, WATER, MEDICINE
"Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The report said climate change, pollution, habitat change, overexploitation and invasive alien species were the five main drivers of biodiversity loss and warned the provision of food, medicine, fresh water and crop pollination could be at risk.
The report, based on the work of 110 national reports, also highlighted areas where the 2010 target had prompted action.
It said more protected areas on land and in coastal waters had been created and conservation efforts had targeted some species. At least 31 bird species would have become extinct in the past century without them.
Some 170 countries now had national action plans.
"This suggests that with adequate resources and political will, the tools exist for loss of biodiversity to be reduced at wider scales," it said.
An international meeting in Nagoya, Japan, in October will consider goals for the next decade.
The U.N. Environment Programme said a lack of economic value attached to the multi-trillion-dollar benefits provided by ecosystems had contributed to the loss of biodiversity.
It said restructuring of the global economy after the financial crisis provided an opportunity to introduce regulation and market incentives to help stem the losses.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)