German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel opened a two-week conference yesterday aimed at ensuring the survival of diverse species around the world in the face of climate change and pollution.
The ninth conference of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, held in Bonn, brings together representatives of 191 governments committed to trying to promote fair use of the world's natural resources and protect endangered plants and animals.
"In my view climate change and the loss of biodiversity are the most alarming challenges on the global agenda," Gabriel said in his opening speech.
Officials will review the goals set in 2002 at the UN Earth Summit, which called for slowing the loss of biological diversity by 2010 - a target critics say is far out of reach, given a growing human population, rising levels of pollution and climate change.
Organizers also hope the conference will help find ways to ease the rapid rise in food costs, which has sparked violent protests in Haiti and Egypt. There is concern that unrest could take place elsewhere amid profiteering and hoarding.
Food prices have been driven to record highs recently by a variety of factors, among them a spike in the cost of petroleum products, including those used in fertilizers and processing.
There has also been an increase in the price of grain, which is used to produce biofuels and fed to livestock to satisfy a growing demand for meat in developing countries.
To counter that, Ahmed Djoghlaf, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the need to maintain and promote diversity was tantamount.
"Conservation of biodiversity is not about keeping one species away from another. It is not about building fences around national parks and keeping humans out. It is about interaction between all species and their natural ecosystem," he said.
"About two-thirds of the food crops that feed the world rely on pollination by insects or other animals to produce healthy fruits and seeds," he said, singling out a drop in bee populations worldwide as an example of how one link in the chain can affect the other.