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The diversity of life on Earth is undergoing an ”immense and hidden” tragedy that requires the scale of global response now being deployed to tackle climate change, according to one of the world’s most eminent biologists.

Prof Edward Wilson, an ecologist who has been described as “Darwin’s natural heir” and hailed by novelist Ian McEwan as an ”intellectual hero” and ”inspirational” writer, told the Guardian that the threat was so grave he is pushing for the creation of an international body of experts modelled on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC, which is credited with convincing world leaders that the threat from climate change is real, includes about 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries and was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007 along with Al Gore. Wilson’s proposed organisation – which he names the Barometer of Life – would report to governments on the threats posed to species around the world.

Wilson said the problem of biodiversity loss had been “eased off centre stage” because of the focus on climate change.

“We don’t hear as much public concern, protestation and plans by political leaders to save the living environment. It doesn’t get anything like the attention the physical environment has,” he said.

Since the beginning of the last century, 183 species are known to have become extinct, including the Tasmanian tiger, the Caribbean monk seal and the toolache wallaby. But this number is a gross underestimate of the true number of extinctions, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature species programme.

The Guardian 20 November 2009

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