Humans are responsible for the worst spate of extinctions since the
dinosaurs and must make unprecedented extra efforts to reach a goal of
slowing losses by 2010, a U.N. report said on Monday.

ranging from coral reefs to tropical rainforests face mounting threats,
the Secretariat of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity said in
the report, issued at the start of a March 20-31 U.N. meeting in
Curitiba, Brazil.

"In effect, we are currently responsible for
the sixth major extinction event in the history of earth, and the
greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared, 65 million years ago," said
the 92-page Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 report.

Apart from the
disappearance of the dinosaurs, the other "Big Five" extinctions were
about 205, 250, 375 and 440 million years ago. Scientists suspect that
asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions or sudden climate shifts may
explain the five.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.A rising human population of 6.5 billion was
undermining the environment for animals and plants via pollution,
expanding cities, deforestation, introduction of "alien species" and
global warming, it said.

It estimated the current pace of
extinctions was 1,000 times faster than historical rates, jeopardizing
a global goal set at a 2002 U.N. summit in Johannesburg "to achieve, by
2010, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss".

additional efforts’ will be needed to achieve the 2010 biodiversity
target at national, regional and global levels," it said. The report
was bleaker than a first U.N. review of the diversity of life issued in


According to a "Red List" compiled by the
World Conservation Union, 844 animals and plants are known to have gone
extinct in the last 500 years, ranging from the dodo to the Golden Toad
in Costa Rica. It says the figures are probably a big underestimate.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors."The
direct causes of biodiversity loss — habitat change,
over-exploitation, the introduction of invasive alien species, nutrient
loading and climate change — show no sign of abating," the report said.

Despite the threats, it said the 2010 goal was "by no means an impossible one".

It urged better efforts to safeguard habitats ranging from deserts
to jungles and better management of resources from fresh water to
timber. About 12 percent of the earth’s land surface is in protected
areas, against just 0.6 percent of the oceans.

It also
recommended more work to curb pollution and to rein in industrial
emissions of gases released by burning fossil fuels and widely blamed
for global warming.

By Alister Doyle