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Climate change growing threat to food, biodiversity – officials

By Amantha Perera (Reuters) - September 24, 2012

Climate change is a major threat to the world’s food supply and to biodiversity, and prompt action to deal with it is crucial, environmental experts said at the close of the World Conservation Congress.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that shifts in weather patterns suggest that problems for people and the environment will multiply if no action is taken on climate change.

“I think climate change has resonated at every level of discussion both here and at Rio,” Steiner told AlertNet, referring to the Rio+20 sustainable development conference in June. He warned that if action is not taken to limit harm to nature, a large part of the global population will bear the consequences.

“We are living in an age of destruction. If we believe that we can feed nine billion people with the agriculture and industrial model of the past century, we are wrong,” Steiner said.

Similar views were expressed by other experts that changing climate patterns were raising risks and pushing companies as well as governments to act.

“Climate change is worsening everything. Flood disasters increased by 230 percent and drought disasters by 38 percent in the 20 years to the early 2000s,” Rachel Kyte, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank said in her keynote address on the opening day of the congress.

Ajanta Dey, an experts on mangroves from the Indian state of Kolkata told AlertNet that climate change-linked sea level rise and changing rainfall patterns were putting many communities living along the mouth of the Ganges River at risk.

“The monsoon rainfalls have changed drastically. All of it is being blamed on changing climate patterns and I feel the world needs to open its eyes,” she told AlertNet.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dais, the executive secretary of UNEP’s Convention on Biological Diversity said that climate change posed a huge risk to agriculture all over the world as it increased the number of droughts and floods.

Effective conservation efforts could go a long way toward guaranteeing much of the world’s population remains fed, he said.

LACK OF POLITICAL WILL

Steiner blames the lack of political will among world governments to act on sustainable development and climate change adaptation as the biggest roadblock facing the conservation community.

“What is fundamental is (that) we act as a global community,” he said. But “what we are unable to do is to scale up responses.”

Other experts said that many governments talk about their concern but are still reluctant to take decisive action.

“Few politicians will say they don’t value nature, it is just that we have not followed through with legislation,” said Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London.

Many experts at Jeju called on the world’s businesses to take an aggressive lead in the fight against climate change and in support of sustainable development.

Steiner said that he believes if businesses take the lead, governments would follow.

Bastian Bertzky, a senior programme officer at the UNEP’s the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) agreed that business involvement can help move conservation efforts forward.

“Wherever there are businesses involved, (and) governmental and non-governmental organisations involved… the higher their participation, the better the management of conservation programmes,” he said.