BONN, Germany (Reuters) - Germany has pledged 500 million euros ($786.2 million) by 2012 to help protect the world’s forests, a move activists said could give impetus to U.N. talks on preserving the earth’s biodiversity.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who won praise from environmentalists last year for her part in pushing through EU and G8 deals to fight climate change, made the commitment at a U.N. conference as it entered its decisive phase.
“We need a turning point on the issue of biodiversity,” Merkel told delegates from 191 states participating in the 12-day conference which ends on Friday.
U.N. studies say the planet is facing the most serious spate of extinctions since dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, and experts meeting in Bonn are trying to agree on ways to slow down the rate at which plants and animals are dying out.
Human activity, including greenhouse gas emissions, are largely to blame, say the experts, who also warn of the economic costs of the loss of biodiversity.
Politicians have started to take biodiversity more seriously because of a surge in food prices which has been linked to booming demand in fast-growing economies, including China, and the growing use of crops to provide fuel.
Experts say crops will suffer if wild stocks die out.
“We’re ready to take responsibility,” said Merkel. “We’re ready to do everything we can to safeguard the riches of our earth and the foundation of life for mankind,” she said, adding some 150 animal and plant varieties die out every day.
She told delegates Europe’s biggest economy would spend an additional 500 million euros on a network of protected forest areas until 2012. After that, Germany would boost spending to 500 million euros per year from an annual 200 million now.
About 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases come from the destruction of forests, say experts, and paying farmers in developing countries to keep them is seen by some as a way of slowing down climate change.
Environmental groups welcomed Merkel’s announcement, saying it sent a strong signal to other countries and may help break the deadlock in the talks.
“After years of talk with little action, this new commitment will put the air back in the lungs of conservation funding,” said Olaf Tschimpke, president of the Nature Conservancy and Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU).
The conference is working on a range of possible measures, including new rules on access to genetic resources and sharing their benefits, boosting the area of land and sea in protected areas and finding ways to combat invasive species.
A U.N. summit in 2002 set a goal of slowing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 but most experts say that target is out of reach.
“The time for action is now,” EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told delegates.
“Extinction is forever. We cannot wait until the degradation of ecosystems reaches a point of no return.”
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia