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UN biodiversity conference reviews progress in global agreement to protect earth's ecosystem

Delegates from nearly 200 countries worked Tuesday to implement an agreement on protecting the Earth's ecosystems at a biodiversity conference in southern India.

The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad is discussing progress toward achieving goals laid out in the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Nagoya Protocol created in Japan two years ago.

The protocol lays down steps for countries to protect ecosystems and share access to genetic resources. Convention officials said 92 countries have signed the protocol but only six have ratified it. At least 50 ratifications are required for the Nagoya Protocol to come into force.

Scientists warn that numerous species could become extinct unless prompt action is taken to protect them. They estimate the Earth is losing species at 100 to 1,000 times the historical average, pushing the planet toward the greatest extinction age since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.

However, countries are divided over resources to fund the implementation of the protocol, with developing countries saying the global economic crisis should not dampen funding from industrialized countries, as conserving biodiversity is an investment for the future.

"Expenditure on biodiversity needs to be looked at as an investment that will reap benefits for us and our future generations," Jayanthi Natarajan, India's environment minister, told the conference Monday.

At the Nagoya meeting in 2010, countries identified 20 biodiversity targets to be pursued in the decade to 2020 aimed at halting the extinction of the world's animals and plants and preventing further damage to its ecosystems.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the convention, said the Hyderabad meeting would explore problems countries face while implementing those goals, including a lack of resources for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India was committed to the biodiversity convention and would spend $50 million on biodiversity conservation over the next two years and a similar amount on capacity building in poor countries.

"The diversity of life forms on earth is the culmination of millions of years of the productive genius of nature," Singh told the conference Tuesday. "We need to work together and act before a catastrophe is upon us."

A U.N report on food security, released in Hyderabad on Tuesday, warned that overfishing was undermining the ecological basis of global fisheries. It quoted a Food and Agriculture Organization finding that 53 percent of global marine stocks were fully exploited.

The loss of coastal habitats such as coral reefs and mangrove forests was particularly alarming, with at least 40 percent of coral reefs and 35 percent of mangrove forests destroyed or degraded in the last decade.

A warmer world would also result in the degradation of coastal water quality, spiking ocean acidity levels that would further impact marine fisheries, the report said.

Climate change was threatening agriculture by shifting crop-growing zones resulting in a reduction in crop productivity.

Another United Nations report highlighted the degradation and loss of wetlands due to urban expansion and unsustainable agriculture and industrial growth.

"There is an urgent need to put wetlands and water-related ecosystem services at the heart of water management to meet the social, economic and environmental needs of a global population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN's Environment Program.