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Germany

Environment Minister: Biodiversity Poses an 'Alarming Challenge'

Protecting biodiversity is one of the most important global challenges, Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Monday, May 19. He spoke at the start of a two-week United Nations conference on the topic.

Butterfly on a red flower

Biodiversity is seen as fundamental to a healthy planet

Protecting animal and plant life from climate change and pollution should be at the top of the global agenda, Gabriel said at the conference in Bonn on Monday.

Extinctions are going forward at a rate anywhere from 100 times to 1,000 times that of natural extinction. This accelerated pace has not seen since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, according to UN experts. They blame human activities, including greenhouse-gas emissions and destruction of habitats for the loss.

One in four mammals, one bird in eight, one third of all amphibians and 70 percent of plants are under threat.

"In my view, climate change and the loss of biodiversity are the most alarming challenges on the global agenda," Gabriel said in a speech opening the conference, held once every two years.

Gabriel said he would put his full support behind an agreement, saying it is time for countries to take action instead of producing "huge amounts of paper with little content."

Controversy hangs over convention

A tropical plant blooms in Brazil

70 percent of plant species are under threat

The two-week UN Convention on Biological Diversity aims to agree on ways to slow rising extinction rates. The UN convention on biodiversity (CBD) was established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Bonn conference is the ninth meeting of its members.

Yet it won't be easy for the 6,000 delegates from nearly 191 countries to agree on a plan for protecting biodiversity. A UN summit in 2002 set ambitious goals for slowing the rate by 2010, but those are unlikely to be met.

"Sixteen years after the Rio Summit, life on earth is at a crucial crossroads," Gabriel said. "We're still on the wrong track, and if we continue like this, we can see that we will not meet our target."

Food prices in the spotlight

A man carries wood in a rain forest in Nicaragua

Developing countries have accused the West of "biopiracy"

The recent surge in food prices has increased the profile of biodiversity. The food price increases are caused partly by increasing demand in Asia as well as the use of crops to produce biofuel.

Experts say that agricultural crops will suffer if wild plant strains disappear. Unless consumption habits change drastically, it will be impossible to feed nine billion people by 2050, experts warn.

"The world is watching this conference and we cannot fail," the Convention on Biological Diversity Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf told a news conference.

"Business as usual is no more an option if humanity is going to survive. Losing biodiversity is not just losing trees and species, it is an economic and security loss," Djoghlaf said.

A $5 trillion resource

Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the biodiversity conference

Sigmar Gabriel wants more done

Djoghlaf cited a study which puts the annual value of the world's protected areas at $5 trillion (3.2 trillion euros), in services such as food, timber or water purification, compared to $1.8 trillion in annual revenues for the automotive industry.

"This summit is a unprecedented opportunity for governments to stop talking and start acting," said Greenpeace International campaigner Martin Kaiser.

Gabriel warned that if no action is taken, commercial fishing will have to end by 2050, which would be devastating to millions of people who rely on fish protein.

Benefits must be shared

Raincloud hang over the rain forest in Lope Reserve, Gabon

Rainforests hold much of the world's diverse plant and animal life

Gabriel said a major priority of the conference, which ends on May 30, was to agree on the framework for a 2010 deal on rules which govern the access to genetic resources and sharing their benefits.

Gabriel also called for ensuring that developing countries share natural resources, and that they be compensated appropriately for them.

"Industrialized countries must recognize the need to share natural resources with those with those who have safeguarded them," Gabriel said. "It is a question of principle, a question of justice."

Gabriel said that developing countries are right to use the word "biopiracy" when Western countries use their resources without authorization or compensation.

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