AP: Group: World failing to halt biodiversity decline

Wed Jul 1, 8:02 pm ET

Governments are failing to stem a rapid decline in biodiversity that is now threatening extinction for almost half the world's coral reef species, a third of amphibians and a quarter of mammals, a leading environmental group warned Thursday.

"Life on Earth is under serious threat," the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a 155-page report that describes the past five years of a losing battle to protect species, natural habitats and geographical regions from the devastating effects of man.

IUCN, the producer of the world's Red List of endangered animals, analyzed over 44,000 species to test government pledges earlier this decade to halt a global loss in biodiversity by 2010.

That target will not be met, the Gland, Switzerland-based body said, describing the prospects of coral reefs as the most alarming. It also said slightly more amphibians, mammals and birds were in peril compared to five years ago, with species most prized by humans for food or medicine as disproportionately threatened.

"Biodiversity continues to decline and next year no one will dispute that," said Jean-Christophe Vie, the report's senior editor. "It's happening everywhere."

Vie told The Associated Press that biodiversity threats need to be highlighted and combatted, even at a time when many world leaders are preoccupied by economic recession and financial instability. Unlike markets and debts, animal extinction is an irreversible element of today's "wildlife crisis."

He urged governments to usher in major changes to society, such as reducing energy and overall consumption, redesigning cities and reassessing the environmental consequences of globalization — producing goods in one part of the world and sending them thousands of miles to be sold.

Vie said climate change only threatened to make the situation worse.

Governments pledged in 2002 at a meeting of the U.N. Biodiversity Convention and the World Summit on Sustainable Development to halt biodiversity decline by the end of the decade. European governments have set a similar goal among themselves.

In Europe, "about 50 percent of species are under threat or vulnerable," said Barbara Helfferich, a European Union spokeswoman. "Habitats are shrinking and a lot needs to be done. We are doing a lot, but it's not enough as promised to halt biodiversity loss."

Helfferich said a report last year suggested a number of steps for European governments to better protect biodiversity. They included expanding conservation sites, cutting down on overfishing, expanding protection to marine environments and better incorporating ecological concerns in government decisions.