Tokyo: Delegates from more than 190 nations kicked off a UN conference aimed at ensuring the survival of diverse species and ecosystems threatened by pollution, exploitation and habitat encroachment.
But the two-week marathon talks of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity face some of the same divisions between rich and poor nations over what actions to take that have bogged down global climate negotiations.
Scientists warn that unless people start doing more to protect species, extinctions will spike and the intricately interconnected natural world will be damaged with devastating consequences.
"We`re on the verge on the major extinction spasm,`` said Russ Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and a field biologist who has spent decades studying primates and reptiles. "Healthy ecosystems are the underpinnings of human development."
If one part of the complex network of living organism disappears- like bees, which perform the critical role of pollination and whose numbers are falling, the whole system can collapse, scientists argue.
Delegates will be asked to set 20 measurable targets for the next decade to try to slow or halt these trends.
One of the most attention-getting issues is a proposal to set aside vast tracts of land and ocean as protected areas, although developing nations don`t want this to undercut their prospects for economic development.