The goal of the fund is to provide lasting, reliable core funding for at least 30 key protected areas in Africa, Asia and Latin America
* Land conservation on track but marine target missed
* Legacy Landscapes Fund seeded with $160 million
* Comes ahead of UN Biodiversity Convention in October
* Public support for conservation rising
By Kanupriya Kapoor and Simon Jessop
LONDON, May 19 (Reuters) - Germany helped launch a new billion-dollar fund on Wednesday to tackle rapidly depleting global biodiversity, as countries missed key land and marine conservation targets but prepare to ramp up efforts in the decade ahead.
Protecting biodiversity has risen up the global agenda, not least because scientists say the destruction of remote natural habitats facilitates the spread of diseases such as the new coronavirus to humans as they come into closer contact with other species.
The United Nations hopes to secure an agreement at the next Biodiversity Convention meeting in China in October to protect and conserve 30% of the Earth's land and water by 2030.
"The concept of '30 by 30' is quite a big political ask, but we need these kinds of targets because they are a perfect way to harness political will," said James Hardcastle, a conservationist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), referring to the campaign by its tagline.
"We have good hopes for an agreement, but we absolutely must see a commitment to effective conservation, and that includes equity and fairness," he said.
Since 2010, countries have collectively managed to add almost 21 million sq km - an area the size of Russia - to the global network of protected lands, bringing the current total to nearly 17% of the Earth's landmass, according to a progress report published this week by the IUCN.
Yet less than 8% of these lands are connected - something considered crucial for ecological processes and the safe movement of wildlife. Marine conservation areas lag at 7%, below the 2020 target of 10%.
Boosting these figures to hit the 30% target will need international cooperation and financing, experts said. Already 50 countries, including the United States, have pledged to support the "30 by 30" initiative, but with few specifics.
Public and private investors on Wednesday kicked off the Legacy Landscapes Fund (LLF), which has an initial target capital raise of $1 billion.
The goal of the fund is to "provide lasting, reliable core funding for at least 30 top biodiversity hotspots in Africa, Asia and Latin America," said Gerd Müller, Germany's Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Seeded initially with $99 million from the German government, and $30 million from private investors, the fund is actively seeking other public and private donors, it said.
Experts say the biggest threats to biodiversity are human activities such as deforestation, pollution, overhunting and fishing, and other factors like invasive species.
An estimated two million species are known to scientists, and of those, around half face extinction in coming decades. Millions of unknown species could meet a similar fate.
Scientists have called for greater public awareness of this looming mass extinction.
A new survey by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Economist Intelligence Unit found public sentiment is shifting in favour of conservation, most dramatically in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia, where news coverage, Google searches and public petitions related to biodiversity and nature loss have shot up in recent years.
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in Berlin Editing by Gareth Jones)
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