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World leaders have fallen short on a pledge to stem biodiversity loss and have instead allowed alarming declines in species populations, habitat conditions and other indicators, a study showed Thursday.

Researchers looked at 31 indicators with global data covering the period 1970 to 2005, to gauge progress on achieving a goal set by world leaders in 2002 to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. The goal was set in 2002 under the Convention for Biological Diversity, and the target year for achieving those significant reductions was this year.

But the study published in the journal Science found no indication that the rate of biodiversity loss has been slowing over the decades. «There have been declines in... population trends of vertebrates and habitat specialist birds; shorebird populations worldwide; extent of forest; mangroves; seagrass beds; and the condition of coral reefs,» said the study led by Stuart Butchart, a researcher with the UN Environment Program and with the group BirdLife International.

The risk of a species going extinct has accelerated, and pressures on biodiversity have increased over recent decades, the researchers found. Those pressures include human consumption of the planet ecological assets; and increase in the number of alien species in Europe; over-harvesting of more and more fish stocks, and impacts from climate change, which has affected bird populations, the study says.

In 2002, when they set their goal of stemming biodiversity loss, world leaders recognized that losing plant and animal life and systems on earth has a negative impact on human well-being.

For that reason, their target of stopping the rot by 2010 goal was incorporated into the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The researchers urged world governments to show they are serious about preserving Earth's species by reversing detrimental policies, integrating biodiversity into land-use decisions, and boosting funding for policies that tackle biodiversity loss head-on.

2001-2019 License CC BY-NC-ND Denis Polevoy