- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Tens of thousands of animals and plants are being driven to extinction as countries fail to meet conservation targets set more than a decade ago, U.N. officials said at a major conference on biodiversity that continues until Friday.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said human activities such as logging and overfishing rapidly are sending animal and plant species into oblivion.

Many countries have failed to meet commitments under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“We have to do more, not simply pay lip service,” Mr. Toepfer told reporters at the opening of the seventh Conference of the Parties to the biodiversity convention.

More than 2,000 government officials, scientists and environmentalists are attending the Feb. 9-27 conference. Delegates hope to refocus attention on environmental issues at a time when security and trade dominate the international agenda.

They also are exploring the creation of an international framework to help developing nations and indigenous people share in the benefits of commercial use of their natural resources.

At least 60,000 species worldwide become extinct each year, Mr. Toepfer said, mainly because of the “global development agenda” set by wealthy, industrialized nations, which consume most of the earth’s natural resources.

Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki said many countries emphasize industrialization and economic progress above environmental conservation, threatening “a major global ecological crisis.”

“If China, Brazil, India and Indonesia all destroy their ecosystems and natural habitats like developed nations have done, how can nature keep supplying the resources that human beings need?” Mr. Suzuki told reporters.

Reports issued at the opening of the conference two weeks ago included a U.N. study on agricultural expansion, mining, logging and other activities threatening mountain forests, which are home to numerous endangered species and are a water source for billions of people in Asia, South America and Africa.

Deforestation, climate changes and poaching are devastating plant and animal populations in mountain regions, including the spectacled bear in the Andes, the great apes of Africa, fruit-eating birds in Colombia and butterflies in northern Vietnam, the U.N. report said.

The United States has yet to ratify the treaty, and other countries have done little to implement safe-habitat proposals for endangered species.

In Brussels, European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom urged the conference to agree on a “global network of protected areas” to halt the species loss.

The European Union issued figures showing 52 percent of freshwater fish, 42 percent of mammals and 15 percent of birds across Europe are threatened.

“We need to act now. We need a global policy on biodiversity, biosafety and biotechnology,” said Mrs. Wallstrom, who arrived at the conference last week to push Europe’s point of view.

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