New UN publication underlines vital role of ecosystems in reducing poverty

UNEP World Atlas on Biodiversity

1 August 2002 – At current extinction rates of plants and animals, the Earth is losing one major drug every two years, while less than 1 per cent of the world's 250,000 tropical plants has been screened for potential pharmaceutical applications, according to a new United Nations publication released today.

The first "World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth's Living Resources for the 21st Century" by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is a comprehensive map-based view of global biodiversity and shows how humankind is dependent on healthy ecosystems for all its needs.

The Atlas provides facts and figures on the importance of forests, wetlands, marine and coastal environments and other key ecosystems. It is the best current synthesis of the latest research and analysis by UNEP-WCMC and the conservation community worldwide - providing a comprehensive and accessible view of key global issues in biodiversity.

The publication also highlights humankind's impact on the natural world: During the past 150 years, humans have directly impacted and altered close to 47 per cent of the global land area.

Under one bleak scenario, biodiversity will be threatened on almost 72 per cent of the land area by 2032. The Atlas reveals losses of biodiversity are likely to be particularly severe in Southeast Asia, the Congo basin and parts of the Amazon. As much as 48 per cent of these areas will become converted to agricultural land, plantations and urban areas, compared with 22 per cent today, suggesting wide depletions of biodiversity.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said wise use of the Earth's natural resources was at the heart of sustainable development and a key issue for world leader's attending the crucial World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 26 August.

"Humankind now diverts about 40 per cent of the Earth's productivity to its own ends, much of this is being carried out in a destructive and unsustainable way," he said. "It is vital that we reverse these unsustainable practices while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the planet's natural capital, its natural wealth."

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