Monday, January 11, 2010

International Year of Biodiversity

A critically-endangered bird species / USFWS Photo

The U.N. has declared 2010 an International Year of Biodiversity in the hope that greater awareness might stem the ongoing extinction crisis. Many conservationists consider the current crisis to be the earth's sixth mass extinction. The U.N.'s current effort follows in the wake of unsuccessful efforts to reduce biodiversity loss.
The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was agreed at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, alongside the climate change convention.

But it acquired its key global pledge during the Johannesburg summit of 2002, when governments agreed to achieve a "significant reduction" in the rate of biological diversity by 2010.

Conservation organisations acknowledge that despite some regional successes, the target is not going to be met; some analyses suggest that nature loss is accelerating rather than decelerating.
Stemming the tide of extinctions is important in its own right, but it takes on added significance since properly functioning ecosystems provide services that are expensive to replicate.
A large on-going UN-sponsored study into the economics of biodiversity suggests that deforestation alone costs the global economy $2-5 trillion each year.

In his speech at Monday's event, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) executive director Achim Steiner is due to highlight problems caused by invasive species, and the potential for ecosystems such as forests and wetlands to absorb and store carbon from the air.

The UN hopes some kind of legally-binding treaty to curb biodiversity loss can be agreed at the CBD summit, held in Japan in October.

One element is due to be a long-awaited protocol under which the genetic resources of financially-poor but biodiversity-rich nations can be exploited in a way that brings benefits to all.

However, given the lack of appetite for legally-binding environmental agreements that key countries displayed at last month's climate summit in Copenhagen, it is unclear just what kind of deal might materialise on biodiversity.
After the dispiriting turn of events at Copenhagen, I do not have high hopes for what the coming biodiversity summit will produce. However, any improvement over the current state of affairs would be welcome, particularly if negotiators can find a fair way to reduce tropical deforestation.

To see which species are in danger of extinction, see the IUCN Red List, which is the most comprehensive catalogue of threatened species. Among the world's birds, 192 are considered Critically Endangered, an IUCN category indicating that a species has undergone rapid loss in its population and has a high likelihood of becoming extinct without immediate action. TIME also has a list of highly endangered creatures, but that list is more skewed towards large, charismatic mammals. The Endangered Species Print Project has an artistic way of looking at biodiversity loss.