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Life support services threatened, 700 experts urge more prominence of biodiversity on world agenda


The abundance, distribution and diversity of plants and animals around the world is being transformed or destroyed by major human-induced processes with potentially catastrophic consequences for human life as well, according to 700 leading scientific experts from 60 countries convened in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Co-hosted by the Mexican government, the First DIVERSITAS Open Science Conference, Nov. 9-12, warned in a statement that biodiversity underpins "a wide variety of ecosystem services that are crucial to human well-being," services that include the regulation of climate and human disease, storm protection and a suite of others.

"Irreversible destruction of biodiversity is taking place globally as a result of human activities, and there is insufficient political and public attention to its extent and consequences," the scientists said in a statement marking the end of a conference, the first to convene experts from all biodiversity-related fields.

Climate change and pollution are leading drivers of biodiversity loss and alteration and the scientists urged the world community to adopt a French government proposal in January for an international panel to coordinate and sift policy-relevant biodiversity research and advise governments, something akin to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Governments, policy-makers and citizens were urged "to launch and support ambitious interdisciplinary research programmes to explore the Earth's biodiversity, the ecological and socio-economic causes and consequences of its changes, and the best means to conserve and sustainably use it."

Needed is "a properly resourced international scientific panel on biodiversity that includes an intergovernmental component and that aims at providing, on a regular basis, validated and independent scientific information related to biodiversity to governments, international conventions, non-governmental organizations, policy makers and the wider public."

They said economic and policy decisions need to recognize biodiversity impacts and requested help for developing countries to undertake research and biodiversity protection initiatives.

Presentations ranged on issue areas from biology to economics and international law, with emphasis on the positive benefits of conservation.

Renowned scientist Prof. Peter Raven, Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, told delegates that without a change in current directions, as many as two-thirds of world species could be on route to extinction by the end of this century. He said nature will reach sustainability on its own terms unless humans change course.

Pricing ecosystem services in order to evaluate economic trade-offs formed a dominant conference theme.

Arizona State University Prof. Charles Perrings, Vice-Chair of the DIVERSITAS Scientific Steering Committee, noted that reforestation around the Panama Canal, for example, would preclude the relatively huge cost of dredging it.

He said controlling human behavior and decision-making on a global scale can only be achieved by employing market forces, which requires understanding better the value of ecosystem services.

"We are only beginning to understand the relative importance of biodiversity in the provision of services and the trade-offs involved different conservation and development options," says Prof. Perrings.

"People have to decide what to conserve or use, where to conserve or use it, and what mechanisms to use."

Coincidentally during the conference, US lawmakers decided the value to America of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a pristine state was greater than the area's oil and gas reserves and halted proposed ANWR drilling operations.

Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of Paris-based DIVERSITAS, said the conference represented a first attempt to integrate knowledge from different perspectives about the relationship between humans and the world's biological resources.


DIVERSITAS is working to address key questions: How biodiversity is changing and why; the consequences of change for ecosystems and for the delivery of ecosystem goods and services; and how to promote more sustainable use of biodiversity and improve human well-being.

DIVERSITAS brings together biological, ecological and social sciences to address key questions that underlie our limited understanding of the current situation.

Goals of the conference:

  • develop ways to determine the true value of biodiversity (economic, social and cultural); and
  • provide the scientific basis for decision-making (at policy and personal levels) that reflects these values in the effort to conserve vital resources.

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