The world has failed to slow the accelerating extinction crisis despite 17 years of national and international efforts since the great hopes raised at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

The last big promise to act was in 2003, when government ministers from 123 countries committed to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

Experts convening an international meeting in South Africa this week agree that target will not be met next year, which is also the International Year of Biodiversity.

“It is hard to imagine a more important priority than protecting the ecosystem services underpinned by biodiversity,” said Georgina Mace of Imperial College in London, and vice chair of the international DIVERSITAS programme, a broad science-based collaborative.

“We will certainly miss the target for reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010,” said Mace in a statement.

Biodiversity is not just weird-looking animals and pretty birds. It is the diversity of life on Earth that comprises the ecosystems that provide vital services, including climate regulation, food, fibre, clean water and air.

By some estimates, 12,000 species go extinct every year, and the rate is accelerating. Akin to a cataclysmic asteroid, pollution, logging, over-exploitation, consumption, land use changes and engineering projects have produced the planet’s sixth great extinction of species.

Freshwater ecosystems may be the first collapse of one of Earth’s life support systems in 13,000 years. Species that live in lakes and rivers are vanishing four to six times faster than anywhere else on the planet, said Klement Tockner of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany.

“There is clear and growing scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major freshwater biodiversity crisis,” Tockner told IPS.

Some experts predict that by 2025, not a single Chinese river will reach the sea, except during floods, with tremendous effects on coastal fisheries in China. Worldwide, all 25 species of sturgeon and all species of the river dolphins are either extinct or facing extinction. The species remaining in the world’s great rivers like the Danube, Rhine, Hudson and Mekong are mostly non-native species, Tockner said.