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As Biodiversity Goals Go Unmet, Japan Calls for 'Decade of Biodiversity'

The United Nations' goal to slow the loss of wildlife will not be met by the decade's end, so today Japan called on the U.N. to declare 2011 to 2020 its Decade of Biodiversity, Japanese government officials said today (Sept. 22) at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

In 2002, U.N. members pledged to significantly reduce the rate of wildlife loss by 2010 under the Millennium Development Goals. Species decline has not slowed, however, and is accelerating in many species of animals, including groups of mammals, birds and amphibians. Japan's call to ramp up global efforts to stop the current environmental crisis came during the U.N. General Assembly's first-ever day dedicated to discussing biodiversity.

"We strongly support this proposal as consistent conservation work is needed over the next decades if we want to stop biodiversity loss and alleviate poverty," said Lina Barrera, a biodiversity expert at the nonprofit group Conservation International. "It is time to be ambitious and work together governments, NGOs, individuals and businesses to address the biggest challenges facing our planet."

Barrera also urged "world leaders to adopt Japan's proposal and put the environmental crisis at the top of their agendas."

Before new goals can be set, however, someone has some explaining to do. Today delegates will try to come up with answers for why the 2010 goals will not be met. That discussion will continue in about a month in Nagoya, Japan, during the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), when representatives from 193 countries are expected to further discuss why conservation efforts have failed and try to agree on new targets for the next decade.

Conservation groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are telling the world's governments to put their money where their mouths are.

"IUCN urges world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly to seize the moment and invest in what is necessary now," said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. "When governments meet next month in Nagoya they must be ready to invest what's needed to halt biodiversity loss, and so avoid the much larger costs of inaction."

According to the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, 17,291 animal and plant species out of 47,677 assessed so far are threatened with extinction. Those species include 21 percent of mammals, 30 percent of amphibians, 12 percent of birds, 35 percent of conifers and cycads (groups of plants), 17 percent of sharks and 27 percent of reef-building corals.

"Failure to act will damage our economies, our livelihoods, our health and our quality of life," Marton-Lefèvre said.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.