A major conference in Egypt later this month will discuss how to prevent the extinctions of species that are critical for food production, clean water, and carbon sequestration.

Delegates from 195 nations and the European Union will gather in Sharm el Sheikh to hammer out a framework for managing the world's ecosystems and wildlife.  Campaigners have been frustrated that the subject has taken a backseat to other environmental concerns such as global warming.

"The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer," said Cristiana Pasca Palmer, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in an interview with The Guardian.  "It's different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life.  With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late."

The world is already experiencing high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution, and invasive species.  Projections say it will accelerate in the coming three decades because of climate change and growing human populations.  Africa is expected to lose half of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries would completely collapse by the year 2050.  Without those plants and sea creatures, the Earth's ability to absorb carbon will be greatly reduced, creating a vicious cycle.

"The numbers are staggering," said Pasca Palmer.  "I hope we aren't the first species to document our own extinction."

After the conference in Egypt, nations will commence two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pasca Palmer hopes will result in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.