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Radio Free Europe

UN Conference Confronts Dramatic Loss Of Biodiversity

Antoine Blua

The Panay monitor lizard is listed as 'endangered' because both it is both hunted by man and its habitat, in forestland on Panay Island in the Phillipines, is declining. Biologists warn that species are disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural rate of wildlife loss. More than one-fifth of the world's plant species and terrestrial vertebrates are threatened with extinction.(AP / IUCN / Tim Laman)

Delegates from 193 nations have opened a UN meeting in Japan to discuss
how to address Earth's dramatic loss of animal and plant species.

The two-week Nagoya conference brings together parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

its opening, Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Program, told
delegates the meeting is "part of the world's efforts to address a very
simple fact -- we are destroying life on Earth."

A key task
facing the 8,000 delegates is to hammer out a set of strategic goals to
prevent the further loss of species over the next 10 years.

such as Jonathan Bailie, director of conservation programs at the
Zoological Society of London, doubt the discussions will result in an
ambitious, comprehensive international agreement featuring binding
targets. But Bailie tells RFE/RL that he expects the talks to reveal a
growing agreement among governments about the need to place a price on
the goods and services that nature provides.

conservationists have focused on moral or ethical reasons as to why we
want to save biodiversity," Bailie says. "But it's becoming increasingly
apparent that if we don't put a value on things, then often the wrong
market decisions are made. For example, if trees are worth less standing
than they are [worth] cut down, they will be cut down."

Disappearing Species

UN says the world has failed to reach the goal, set in 2002, of a
"significant reduction" in species losses by 2010 -- named as the
International Year of Biodiversity.

warn that species are disappearing at up to 1,000 times the natural
rate of wildlife loss. More than one-fifth of the world's plant species
and terrestrial vertebrates are threatened with extinction. The threat
concerns one-third of freshwater fish species. This is mainly due to
habitat destruction; expansion of agriculture; deforestation;
overexploitation of biological resources such as fish; invasive species;
and, on top of that, climate change.

The annual economic cost of
environmental degradation and biodiversity loss is estimated at
trillions of dollars -- equivalent to as much as 10 percent of global
gross domestic product.

Speaking on September 22 at a summit in
New York on the species crisis, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
cautioned that biological diversity is closely linked to the world

"Maintaining and restoring our natural infrastructure,"
Ban said, "can provide economic gains worth trillions of dollars each
year. Allowing it to decline is like throwing money out of the window."

Direct Effect

steps are taken to reverse the loss of biological diversity, scientists
warn that natural habitats will be degraded and eventually destroyed,
threatening a wide range of benefits such as clean water, pure air,
healthy soil, adequate food, fuel, and protection from extreme weather

This loss will most directly affect the well-being of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the destruction of
forests due to the cutting of trees for fuel, cattle grazing, and land
cultivation is affecting the lives of residents -- causing land
degradation and erosion that lead to mudslides, landslides, and


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In an effort to break the vicious circle, Bailie says
policy makers are to investigate mechanisms designed to ensure
governments value ecosystem services that have previously been regarded
as free.

Meanwhile, stronger pressure is to be put on businesses
to measure the financial costs associated with their impact on the

"With the toxic sludge [in Hungary] and the recent
oil spills and so on," Bailie says, "people are realizing that business
is having a serious impact on biodiversity, and that business needs to
be more accountable and business needs to maintain the resources that
they are custodians of sustainably."

Businesses Must Act

Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" survey, to be released at the
Nagoya conference, is expected to show that there is a strong case for
businesses to take action to limit activities that harm biological
diversity and to incorporate environmental impacts into their risk

Ahead of the meeting, Richard Burrett, co-chair of
the UN Environment Program's Finance Initiative and a partner at the
investment advisory firm Earth Capital Partners, told Reuters that
accounting systems need to fully integrate environmental degradation
caused by economic development.

He said that failure to do so meant companies were not measuring their balance sheet and profit and loss accurately.

Ignoring The Threat

last week at a roundtable hosted by consultancy firm
PricewaterhouseCoopers, Jon Williams, partner at PWC's sustainability
and climate change team, said that besides physical risks to operations
and supply chains, such as soil degradation and water shortages,
businesses were facing investor risks.

Such risks were
highlighted by the recent experience of BP, which has seen its share
price halved as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

and Burrett said increasing numbers of institutional investors are
starting to call on firms to report on the biodiversity threats they
face and to change their investment practices with new environmental and
social standards.

But PWC this year released a report warning
that the vast majority of the world's largest companies are ignoring
environmental threats.

The report found that only six of the
world's largest 100 companies had measures in place to reduce their
impact on biodiversity and environmental habitats and just two had
identified biodiversity as a strategic risk.

Bailie says he
expects this to change, adding that the companies which manage their
ecological footprint will be better positioned.

"I believe that
over the next five years or so, there's going to be more public pressure
for companies to comply and to better manage the biodiversity," Bailie
says. "The pioneers, those that are at the front, will actually benefit
in the longer term."


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