The United Nations formally launched on Monday the International Biodiversity Year with a fervent plea to save the world's ecosystems.
"Humans are part of nature's rich diversity and have the power to protect or destroy it," the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said in summarizing the Year's main message, with its focus on raising awareness to generate public pressure for action by the world's decision makers.
"Biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, is essential to sustaining the living networks and systems that provide us all with health, wealth, food, fuel and the vital services our lives depend on. Human activity is causing the diversity of life on Earth to be lost at a greatly accelerated rate.
These losses are irreversible, impoverish us all and damage the life support systems we rely on every day. But we can prevent them."
The Convention ¬- which opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, entered into force at the end of 1993 and now has 193 Parties - is based on the premise that the world's diverse ecosystems purify the air and the water that are the basis of life, stabilize and moderate the Earth's climate, renew soil fertility, cycle nutrients and pollinate plants.
As a former UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Töpfer, put it: "If any part of the web suffers breaks down, the future of life on the planet will be at risk." That is why the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.
Speaking at the launch in Berlin, German premier Angela Merkel backed the idea of forming a scientific panel to collate and assess research on biodiversity loss, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses evidence on climatic indicators.
"The question of preserving biological diversity is on the same scale as climate protection," she said.
"It would be sensible to have an interface between the politics and the science to integrate knowledge," she added.
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), urged governments and their leaders to renew their commitment to curbing biodiversity loss even though the 2010 goal will be missed.
"The urgency of the situation demands that as a global community we not only reverse the rate of loss, but that we stop the loss altogether and begin restoring the ecological infrastructure that has been damaged and degraded over the previous century or so," he said.
A host of other events - meetings, symposia, multi-media exhibitions - will follow throughout the year in venues around world, from Trondheim, Norway, to Delhi, India, from Doha, Qatar, to Cartagena, Colombia, and from Shanghai, China, to Nairobi, Kenya, culminating in a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters in New York at the start of the General Assembly's 65th annual General Debate in September and an official closing in Kanazawa, Japan, in December.
"A wide variety of environmental goods and services that we take for granted are under threat, with profound and damaging consequences for ecosystems, economies and livelihoods," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in November at the start of the pre-celebrations.
"In this International Year, we must counter the perception that people are disconnected from our natural environment. We must increase understanding of the implications of losing biodiversity. In 2010, I call on every country and each citizen of our planet to engage in a global alliance to protect life on Earth."
The Montreal-based CBD Secretariat likewise stresses the urgency in raising public awareness of the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss.
"The goal for raising awareness of these issues is to generate public pressure for action by decision makers, and to create the conditions for governments, individuals and other important sectors, to be encouraged to implement the Convention and to engage with other international and national institutions, towards achieving the goals of the Convention."
The Convention covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources, linking traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably, setting principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources, notably for commercial use and covering the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, and addressing technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety.