The “alarming” rate at which species are being lost could have a severe effect on humanity, conservationists warned on Monday. Targets set eight years ago by governments to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 have not been met, experts confirmed at a U.N. meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook report said loss of wildlife and habitats could harm food sources and industry, and exacerbate climate change through rising emissions.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion [people], heading to over nine billion by 2050. Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet.” The report confirms what a coalition of 40 conservation organisations said last month, when they claimed there have been “alarming biodiversity declines”. The coalition said pressures on the natural world from development, over-use and pollution have risen since the ambition to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss was set out in the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity. The first formal assessment of the target, published at the end of April in the journal Science, is the basis of Monday's formal declaration.

This week's meeting will see governments pressed to take the issues as seriously as climate change and the economic crisis.

“Since 1970 we have reduced animal populations by 30 per cent, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20 per cent and the coverage of living corals by 40 per cent,” said Prof Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the UNEP. “These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human wellbeing and sustainable development.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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