'On Verge Of Major
By Haider Rizvi
25 July, 2006
NEW YORK - Mindful that life on Earth is seriously
threatened by the continued loss of thousands of plant and animal species,
an international group of scientists is calling for the creation of
a global forum to help officials craft plans to preserve biodiversity
on the planet.
"There is an urgent
need to bridge the gap between science and policy to take action,"
says a statement from the 19-member group that cautions against the
possibility of a "major biodiversity crisis" facing the Earth.
If governments fail to take
appropriate actions in due course of time, the group says it is quite
likely that before the end of this century a large number of plant and
animal species will have completely disappeared.
The protection of biological
diversity is a must for the health of the planet's ecosystems that take
care of all forms of life. The ecosystems, which include forests, flowers,
coral reefs, and waterways, are currently under assault as never before.
Policy makers around the
world not only acknowledge the need to preserve biological diversity,
but have also made a number of commitments to address this issue. However,
in most cases, their deeds have failed to match their words.
Despite substantial evidence
of a steep decline in the population of a large number of species, as
the group notes with a certain degree of dissatisfaction, both the public
and private sectors remain unsuccessful in taking effective actions
to protect biodiversity.
One of the reasons the issue
of biological diversity remains on the back burner of environmental
concern is perhaps linked to the fact that that it is more complex than
issues such as the stratospheric ozone hole or global climate change.
Scientists say they understand
that biodiversity cannot be measured by simple universal indicators
such as temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide because it involves
several levels of organization, such as genes, species, and ecosystems.
On the other hand, however,
statistical facts on the loss of biodiversity suggest the imminent dangers
of inaction, as two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind
are already in decline, with 12 percent of bird species, 23 percent
of mammals, 25 percent of conifers, 32 percent of amphibians, and 52
percent of cycads (a type of evergreen plant similar to palms and ferns)
continuing to face serious threats of extinction.
Moreover, according to scientific
calculations, within the next 50 years, it is quite likely that up to
another 37 percent of currently existing species might be gone due to
About 14 years ago, the world
community created a treaty on biodiversity setting out three main goals
that include the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable
use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits
from the use of genetic resources.
Under the treaty, which has
been signed by 188 countries, governments are required to take certain
steps that would "significantly reduce" the biodiversity loss
by the year 2010.
But many countries continue
to lag behind in implementing plans on biodiversity protection, in large
measure because their policy makers have no close and coordinated links
with the scientific researchers in the field.
Though comprehensive in various
ways, the treaty on biodiversity has no clear-cut structural means to
organize scientific opinion on a global level, according to the group
that is currently engaged in efforts to create unity among its own rank
and file first.
"For the sake of the
planet, the biodiversity science community has to create a way to get
organized," says Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientists at the World
Bank, who led the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
and the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (MEA).
Watson thinks that the global
panel on climate change and other similar forums on international environmental
issues could prove to be good models for biodiversity experts to help
policy makers with advice on how to halt the catastrophic loss of species.
"Each model has strengths
and weaknesses," he says, "but essentially they all serve
as a reliable source of information and advice for the public, their
government and decision makers."
Michel Loreau, a biology
professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and one of the leading
members of the group, fully agrees with Watson's proposal, but for other
reasons as well.
"We need diversity of
opinions and approaches," he says, "but we also need unity
behind this collective effort, to speak with one voice collectively
when it comes to recognizing key issues and how they can best be addressed."
provides ecosystem services such as disease and climate regulation,
storm protection, and habitat for useful species," says Charles
Perrings of Arizona State University, who also signed the statement
issued by the group.
In his view, since biodiversity
imposes "real economic costs on society, we need to develop clear
science guidance for policy options accordingly."
For their part, officials
in some parts of the world, it seems, have no objection to the idea
that Watson and his colleagues are floating. The French government,
for example, has not merely agreed, but also provided funds for talks
to create a global panel.
The ongoing consultations
are likely to be concluded shortly before the ninth international conference
of the parties to the treaty on biological diversity takes place in
Berlin, Germany in 2008.
The ongoing talks will determine
what kind of biodiversity information is needed by decision makers in
many relevant areas, including fisheries, transportation, industry,
and parks management, in order to design a panel that addresses those
The group says it wants the
panel to be objective, independent, transparent, and representative,
which includes official experts, as well as independent scientists,
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector representatives,
a wish list, if realized, that could strengthen the 14-year-old UN Convention
on Biological Diversity (CBD).
"This convention is
about life on Earth. The achievement of the 2010 biodiversity target
is of crucial importance for everyone alive today and our children and
grandchildren and generations to be born," said Ahmed Djoghlaf,
executive secretary of the CBD in a recent statement.
"I would like to call
on everyone to join this unprecedented effort to conserve life on Earth,"
Copyright © 2006 OneWorld.net.