Global group to assess human impact on nature over three years

Storm clouds can be seen above a coal ship as it sails near Lady Elliot Island located north-east of the town of Bundaberg in Queensland, Australia, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/David Gray

OSLO (Reuters) - A global scientific group on Sunday launched a three-year assessment of mankind's impact on nature to help protect plants and animals from threats ranging from pollution to climate change. The study, due in 2019, would examine biodiverstiy, from bacteria to blue whales, and "ecosystem services", which range from the value of coral reefs as nurseries for fish to the role of forests in absorbing greenhouse gases. Governments in 2010 agreed a series of targets for protecting nature, including halting extinctions of threatened species by 2020, but scientists say they still have only a hazy idea of the pace at which animals and plants are dying out. The new assessment by the 124-nation Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), set up in 2012, is part of the solution to understand how human activities are affecting the planet. "IPBES'S goal is to give policymakers and all of society a more complete understanding of how people and nature interact," Simon Ferrier of Australia's national science agency CSIRO, and a senior IPBES official, said in a statement. He added that the IPBES studies would help guide policy decisions in future. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, IPBES also approved a new approach to help evaluate policy options. Many plants and animals face threats such as the loss of tropical forest habitats to make way for farms to feed a rising human population, a spread of roads and cities, pollution and the impacts of global warming. Set up in 2012, IPBES released a first study on Friday about pollination and found that bees, bats, butterflies and others were in decline, even though they are vital for global food production worth up to $577 billion a year. IPBES also chose British atmospheric scientist Robert Watson, a former chair of the U.N.'s panel on climate change and former IPBES vice-chair, as its new chair, succeeding Zakri Abdul Hamid of Malaysia. (Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Richard Balmforth)