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    Biodiversity Conference Opens in Paris

    Lisa Bryant

    A conference has opened in Paris aimed at highlighting the threat to the world's biodiversity. Environmentalists believe the failure of governments to meet pledges to preserve their flora and fauna has had disastrous consequences.

    At least 15,589 species are threatened with extinction, according to the World Conservation Union, a Swiss-based policy group.

    National parks and reserves have failed to protect the species that live within them. Deforestation and other environmental destruction is particularly acute in tropical areas, where the richest variety of flora and fauna is concentrated.

    In an opening address at the Paris conference, French President Jacques Chirac said humanity had a responsibility without precedent to counter the steady erosion of the world's biodiversity. He called for developing and richer countries to work together to reduce species loss.

    Although Paris is credited for hosting the biodiversity conference, environmentalists have criticized the French government for not doing enough to preserve domestic flora and fauna. Mr. Chirac vowed France would do more, including establishing more protected areas.

    France is not the only country under fire. More than a decade ago, world leaders signed an agreement to preserve biodiversity. But today, environmentalists say many countries have failed to live up to the pledges made in the 1992 convention.

    "We can see we are still losing biodiversity at a very high rate. While we were hoping to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, ...so that is really a serious problem," said Jo Mulongoy, the head of the scientific division in the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. "We want to find out why its happening like this, and what we should do from now on to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss," he added.

    Mr. Mulongoy says humans feel the impact of biodiversity loss in many ways. Fewer plant varieties, for example, means drought or disease can wipe out entire crops.

    Only recently have countries started establishing clear targets for reducing biodiversity loss. Scientists at the Paris meeting are expected to call for the creating of an intergovernmental body to monitor progress in meeting those targets.

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