(Reuters) – Governments need to spend $80 billion a year to halt extinctions of endangered animals and plants, many times current levels and only half the amount paid to bankers in bonuses last year, a study showed.
The extra spending is vital to protect natural services such as insect pollination of crops or water purification by wetlands, the report in Friday's edition of Science said.
"These are investments in natural capital. They are not bills. They are dwarfed by the benefits we get back from nature," Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International in England, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters.
The report, trying to put a price tag on U.N. goals for 2020 agreed by governments in 2010 for preserving everything from insects to whales, estimated that it would cost $76.1 billion to expand and manage protected areas for endangered species.
And it would cost an extra $3.41 billion to $4.76 billion a year to achieve a goal of avoiding extinctions and improving the conservation level of all known threatened species, ranging from the giant panda or the tiger to lesser known frogs or plants.
Many scientists say the sum now spent on biodiversity protection is about 10 times too little.
Butchart said the $80 billion total was half of $156 billion estimated in one report as bonuses at major banks in 2011, or a fraction of world defence spending of $1.7 trillion.
The study said the sum was equivalent to between 1 and 4 percent of the net value of "ecosystem services", ranging from seed dispersal to waste decomposition by insects, that are lost every year.
Those losses, caused by destruction of habitats, are estimated to cost between $2 trillion and $6.6 trillion a year, according to the study by scientists in Britain, United States, Denmark, Australia, Germany and New Zealand.
"More prosaically, the total required is less than 20 percent of annual global consumer spending on soft drinks," the study said, citing a report that estimated world soft drink sales at $469 billion.
The study coincides with an Oct. 8-19 meeting of governments in Hyderabad, India, trying to work out how to reach goals of preserving the diversity of life from the pressures of a human population above 7 billion.
"The shortfalls we have identified highlight a clear and urgent need to scale up investment in biodiversity conservation substantially", said lead author Donal McCarthy, of BirdLife International and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
U.N. reports say the world is facing the worst crisis of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. Pollution, climate change, land clearance of forests to make way for farms, roads and towns are among threats.
And many species are becoming extinct before they have even been described. Butchart said governments needed to shift priorities towards nature, even though many were struggling with sluggish growth or high unemployment.
"In economically challenging times it is even more important to set priorities," he said. "This is not an altruistic action."
The U.N. goals for 2020 include expanding protected areas to 17 percent of the world's land surface - from 12.7 percent estimated for 2010 - and to 10 percent of seas under national control, from 4.0 percent.
The scientists started off by estimating the costs of reducing threats to endangered birds, the best studied group of animals, and extrapolated the results to other species.