Delegates from the 193 members of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are gathering in the central city of Nagoya, about 350km west of Tokyo, to try to work out strategies to reverse a man-made mass extinction.
“Business as usual is no more an option when it comes to life on Earth... we need a new approach, we need to reconnect with nature and live in harmony with nature,” said CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf said.
Delegates were told human population pressures were wiping out ecosystems such as tropical forests and coral reefs, killing off animal and plant species on which humanity depend.
“We are destroying life on Earth,” the UN environment programme’s executive director Achim Steiner said in a speech at the opening ceremony.
“We are destroying the very foundations that sustain life on this planet.”
Delegates in Nagoya plan to set a new target for 2020 for curbing species loss, and will discuss boosting medium-term financial help for poor countries to help them protect their wildlife and habitats.
But similar pledges to stem biodiversity loss have not been fulfilled, and Djoghlaf said governments around the world had to acknowledge that failure.
“Let’s have the courage to look into the eyes of our children and admit that we have failed individually and collectively to... substantially reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010,” Djoghlaf said.
At the start of the decade, UN members pledged under the Millennium Development Goals to achieve “a significant reduction” in the rate of wildlife loss by 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity.
Instead, habitat destruction has continued unabated, and some experts now warn that the planet faces its sixth mass extinction phase – the latest since dinosaurs vanished 65 million years ago.
Nearly a quarter of mammals, one third of amphibians, more than one in eight birds, and more than a fifth of plant species now face the threat of extinction, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In May, a UN report warned of looming “tipping points” that could irreversibly damage ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest, through logging and land clearance, and coral reefs through global warming and overfishing.
The Earth’s 6.8 billion humans are effectively living 50% beyond the planet’s biocapacity in 2007, according to a new assessment by WWF that said by 2030 humans will effectively need the capacity of two Earths.
Meanwhile, disputes between rich and poor nations that have plagued efforts to curb greenhouse gases threaten to similarly hamper biodiversity negotiations.
The European Union is calling for a target of halting biodiversity loss by 2020, while many developing nations only support a weaker goal of “taking action” on the issue.
There are also tensions over efforts to forge an accord on the “equitable sharing” of the benefits from natural resources – for example a medicine derived from a jungle plant – under a so-called Access and Benefits Sharing Protocol (ABS).
Some developing countries have warned that a plan to set up an international scientific panel to assess biodiversity issues and advise policy makers could be blocked if there is no deal on the ABS protocol.