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Species loss: Biodiversity conference calls for top global panel
PARIS (AFP) Jan 28, 2005
A five-day conference on biodiversity wound up here Friday with appeals to set up a scientific panel which would draw global attention to a feared mass die-out of wildife.

The calls were made by 1,200 scientists and policymakers, who hope the panel will give a looming mass extinction the same headline-making impact as the UN's top scientific authority on global warming.

"Biodiversity is a vital and poorly appreciated resource for all of humankind that underpins the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals," the conference said in a statement.

"Biodiversity is being irreversibly destroyed by human activities at an unprecedented rate, and this demands urgent and significant action to conserve, sustainably use and equitably share the benefits of biodiversity."

A separate statement, issued by scientists at the conference, noted there remained enormous ignorance about the planet's species, some of which were being wiped out before they had even been identified.

"Strong actions must be taken now to inventory, understand and protect biodiversity... to ensure food security, human health and the quality of life," they said.

The panel proposal has been backed by French President Jacques Chirac, who says he will lobby for it at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an offshoot of the landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition, Britain, current president of the Group of Eight, "has agreed to include it [the proposal] on the G8 agenda," French Research Minister Francois d'Aubert said.

The model is the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which sifts through the best research on global warming and issues a synthesis of this knowledge.

Its last such report was in 2001 and had enormous impact, focussing political minds to mounting evidence the Earth is warming much faster, and with potentially dangerous consequences on the climate system, than was thought possible.

Because the IPCC panel is neutral and science-based, its deliberations helped spur the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol in late 2001 in the face of bitter US opposition. The next IPCC report is due in 2007.

"It's time for biodiversity scientists to get down from their ivory tower," said Patrick Blandin, a professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.

However, the two statements issued in Paris reflect some quiet discord among experts as to whether the proposed species panel should be a brand-new entity within the CBD or whether the treaty's existing mechanisms should be beefed up.

A working group has been set up to hammer this out, with the idea of putting the proposal to the CBD at its next conference in early 2006.

The Paris conference ranged from nuts-and-bolts work of identifying the world's millions of species to habitat degradation and factoring in environmental costs in the price of goods and services.

A foremost US scientist, Edward Wilson, said it would cost about three billion dollars to draw up an inventory of the world's species, and take 25 years to complete it.

Saving the 25 most-threatened "hotspots" that abound in species, such as the Amazonian forest, would cost 25 billion dollars, he said.

Some scientists believe that human interference is driving the world towards its biggest mass extinction in 65 million years, when the dinosaurs were wiped out by climate change inflicted by an asteroid impact.

Of the estimated 10-30 million species on Earth, only around 1.7 million have been identified and described. The vast majority of the unidentified species are organisms that live in the soil and deep ocean.

Each year, between 25,000 and 50,000 species die out, the vast majority of which have not even been identified, according to scientists' estimates.

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