Scientists estimate that the Earth is losing species at 100 to 1,000 times the historical average. The international community addressed this largely man-made disaster at the 11th biodiversity summit in Hyderabad.
At times, the United Nations conference on the protection of endangered species looked a little like a tug-of-war. In the end, representatives of the developed nations pledged to double their support for developing countries to better protect biodiversity - agreeing to pay a total of almost eight billion euros ($10.5 million) per year until 2015. Representatives of 190 states took part in the conference.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summed up the spirit of the discussions. "Particularly over the past couple of years it has become increasingly difficult to define common environmental protection goals. And that's despite us knowing a lot more about this global threat now than we did in the past."
The 11th "Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity" was a forum for around 14,000 international delegates to exchange their knowledge and opinions. During the discussions it quickly emerged that the protection of species is facing sharp competition from other interests. Emerging economies want economic growth, akin to the development of western industrialized nations - including sacrificing natural resources on the way.
Funding biodiversity for the poorest
Such dilemmas are part of the daily work for the Indian head of state too. Should his government approve important mining projects that destroy valuable forest cover and dispossess indigenous people? Should they build gigantic dams and reservoirs to produce energy? In his speech, Singh emphasised how the fight against poverty often stood in direct competition with preserving biodiversity, as even today, around 400 million Indians have to live on less then one euro a day.
"The poor are living on the brink of their existence. It shouldn't be for them to also shoulder the global protection of endangered species, with all of mankind benefiting from that," Singh said. On the other hand, developed nations complain about the negative impact of the euro crisis, and are therefore reluctant to sign long term commitments.
In the end, the biodiversity summit saw both sides taking steps towards its common goal, with discussions on who finances what lasting long after midnight. What all delegates agreed on was that the upcoming years do need to see an increase of funding for the global protection of species.
"It was a mixed bag," commented Areeba Hamid, senior campaigner at Greenpeace, who attended the conference as an observer. "There were some good outcomes. Ocean conservation was a clear success. But there were other things, that didn't go quite as well – like the issues of bioengineering or carbon offsets."
Ulrich Stöcker, head of Conservation and Biodiversity at German environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe, drew a similar conclusion: "Some of the states weren't so constructive. Other states were very constructive indeed."
Pledges from both sides
African nations, for example, pledged to include better funding in their annual budgets. "For the first time they agreed to enlarge their financial engagement," Stöcker said, "They now understand biodiversity and poverty alleviation have to be thought of and implemented together, and that without their natural resources they don't have any chance of a good sustainable future."
Developed countries, on the other hand, agreed to double their payments for the protection of biodiversity until 2015 - eventually up to almost eight billion euros per year.
Of that, the European Union is going to shoulder the largest part: With its member states now paying three billion euros per year, it's already paying for more than half of all international environmental projects such as forest and marine conservation areas.
One of many endangered species: the Tasmanian Devil
However, "some industrialized states weren't so helpful," Stöcker said. "For example, Canada was very reserved on all questions on re-financing and ecosystem restoration. The other industrial states had to do a lot of work to convince them of the right result."
The US, meanwhile, hadn't signed the international agreement in the first place, and therefore remained absent from the two week conference. According to the Times of India newspaper the event cost organizers around 1.2 million euros, amounting to four percent of the annual budget of the Indian environment ministry.
The next conference is to be held two years from now in South Korea. For Hamid, the next steps following the meeting in India are clear. "It's up to individual countries to come up with how they are going to implement it all," she said. "You have to put your money where your mouth is."