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Big Nature Debate

16 Posts tagged with the biodiversity tag
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Delegates at the Nagoya conference have agreed to an ambitious conservation  programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.

 

20 key strategic goals to be implemented by 2020 should help to end the current mass extinction of species.

 

This has been widely reported, including features in The Independent and Guardian.


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Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK (www.biodiversityislife.net). Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.

 

 

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The London Metro reported yesterday how scientists have just given the green light for a Polynesian pepper shrub/vine – Piper methysticum - and that it does have properties that can be used medicinally to help deal with anxiety problems.

 

Well good for science to confirm this, but the back story includes that Sydney Parkinson the artist on Captain Cook’s first voyage in the Endeavour (1769) was one of the first people to ever record the ethnographic use of the past. Polynesians chewed the leaves into a pulp and ate the brew to get intoxicated (Parkinson a tee-total Quaker disapproved, but also noted that at that time the Polynesians really disliked the alcohol the crew offered them). Much of the society drank the Kava Kava (‘Ava ‘Ava) brew to chill – its anxiety alleviation being pretty obvious!

 

Roll on 50 years and the Presbyterian missionaries had got their hold on the islanders – converting them to Christianity and banning the Kava Kava brew. Charles Darwin in the Beagle Narratives of 1831-6 records with satisfaction how their good work has led to the eradication of the plant over most of Tahiti, but it could still be found on remote volcanic heights (I recorded it there in 2003).

 

clip_image001.jpgOf course other plants in this pepper genus have similar properties. For example, the Savunese people in Indonesia pulp the fruit of a related species with Betel nut to make the red chewing-paste which many of the old people use as a mild smooth (they do not report any euphoric effects but an sense of calm and wellbeing – so science confirms what a whole people have known since time immemorial, Interestingly today the Savunese culture - a mixture of ancient animism and modern Lutheran Christianity - is being suppressed today – by the majority Muslim Indonesian State which do not allow their language to be taught in schools etc.

 

What has this to do with the International Year of Biodiversity, well two obvious points; we should be carefully preserving indigenous knowledge rather than destroying it.

 

We should also be respecting this knowledge alongside science - and that means thinking how these peoples get a share of the benefits of biodiversity when it is exploited by modern drugs companies. These people have been custodians of that knowledge for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

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I’m Australian. Australia can probably claim the fastest rate of species extinction of any country on earth. Humans no sooner entered the treasurehouse of biodiversity that is the continent of Australia than they brought cats, foxes, dogs, deer, goats, pigs, water buffalo, camels, rats, mice, and allowed them to maraud at liberty. Whole populations of fascinating small mammals have been wiped out. Even in England cats have hunted all kinds of small mammals and birds to the edge of extinction. People who care about biodiversity don’t keep cats.

An earthling’s true heritage is not collections of works of art or crown jewels or great palaces built by potentates of the past. Our heritage is the exuberance of our small planet, with its astonishing variety of indwelling species, from the most delicate and intricate of mosses to the most specialised of bugs, hundreds of thousands of species each adapted to its special niche, living in fragile equilibrium with its neighbours and competitors. Every time a single species goes out of existence we are poorer. As it is, whole chains of mutually dependent species are crashing. We are destroying our inheritance before we had even come into it.

My position is that only ordinary people can make a difference. Rebuilding habitat is enormous fun; if you get it right it is also easy. What should be growing in your garden, as distinct from what is? Let your garden grow wild. Leave litter to rot down. Be glad to see bugs, yes, even aphids. More slugs means the return of the thrushes, and the happiness of toads. Let the wasps get drunk on your apples. Let the worms condition your soil. You may make a million mistakes along the way, but you will also see a reward beyond price.
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Paul Smith is leader of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) which aims to save the world’s most endangered plant species from extinction.

 

PaulSmith5.jpgTo halt, and even reverse, biodiversity loss what we need is a combination of appropriate policy and good management practice. These two approaches should always go hand in hand. Even if appropriate policy is set, if natural resource managers don’t have the tools to implement that policy, nothing improves. Conversely, technological or management interventions to stem biodiversity loss will not work unless they are supported by policy that creates funding and incentives.

 

In my opinion, the most important challenges that biodiversity and natural resource  managers face are related to both international and national development policy. The emphasis on poverty alleviation or wealth generation, for example, as measured by GDP or US dollar income, does not adequately address the problem of unsustainable management (and resulting loss) of biodiversity, which in itself leads to real, material poverty. This is dealt with comprehensively in the recent TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) studies, and has been highlighted by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

A second, related problem is faddism in international development policy. The shift away from supporting and encouraging technological collaboration and exchange in natural resources management has undone a lot of good work – for example the decision by donors to cease supporting African tree seed centres at a time when the Food and Agriculture Organisation tells us that 28 trees are cut down for every tree planted in Africa. Good natural resource management takes decades to achieve in any given place, and needs to be maintained.

In the case of national development policy, education and health are rightly priorities, but environment comes too far down the list. Natural capital (land, soils, the diversity of plants, animals and life) is hugely undervalued, and key development areas such as agricultural research and forestry are massively under-resourced. As a result, where natural resource or land use policy is in place, it is often poorly implemented. Government scientists are poorly paid, the best brains move out, the remaining scientists don’t have the training, tools or resources they need, they are consequently not involved in development decision making, and central government increasingly regards its own researchers as irrelevant. This is a vicious circle.

The technological knowledge and tools needed to manage natural resources in a sustainable way are usually available somewhere. However, scientists in developing countries don’t have access to those technologies. This goes way beyond just information. Like the rest of us, they need mentoring, training and long term collaboration. They also need access to wide global networks not simply one on one partnerships in order to reap the benefits.

It is a mystery to me why it is that technical collaborations in Africa have to follow short term funding cycles. In Europe we have pan-European technical collaborations that span decades or even careers and yet a long term European-African collaboration is taken to be an indicator of a programme that is unsustainable – why do we need to have an exit strategy after 3 or 5 years? No wonder it is hard to make an impact!

Finally, biodiversity science in the public sector needs to find its way. Over the past two decades, government agricultural and forestry research institutions all over the world have had their funding cut drastically, and many have had to close. Universities can’t fill this void because they have different research drivers (e.g. publications and short term funding cycles). NGOs can’t do long term research because they don’t have the funding or expertise. And the private sector doesn’t always work for the public good – it also works for profit and shareholders.

Things that would make a difference

1.    Recognition by governments and the development sector that human wellbeing or wealth cannot simply be measured in US dollar.
2.    Recognition by governments that good management of natural capital, including biodiversity, underpins human health, wealth and wellbeing.
3.    Support from donors and national governments for policies that promote ecosystem health, and mitigate the risk of environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.
4.    Support from donors and national governments for capacity building, information exchange and scientific collaboration in the public sector (for appropriate timescales).
5.    A new vision that sets out the role of government scientists in delivering services for the public good.


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Dr Chris Lyal studies insects in the Natural History  Museum's Department of Entomology, where his speciality is the largest  of all beetle groups, the weevils.  As well as his research work he is  the UK National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity's  Global Taxonomy Initiative and for several years worked as a Programme  Officer for the CBD Secretariat.  He has visited many different  countries both for research and while working with people on  biodiversity policy and capacity-building issues.

 

In an earlier blog I mentioned I’d come back to benefits from genetic resources and the CBD, so I’ll now try to grasp the nettle.

 

One of the three objectives of the Convention is Fair and Equitable Access to the Benefits arising out of the utilization of Genetic Resources of Biological Diversity. This is the part that receives least attention of all, and which many of the Parties to the Convention want action on. As Bob has mentioned in one of his postings, one of the three outcomes that many countries want from Nagoya is an International Regime on Access and Benefit-Sharing.  So what does this mean? One thing it means is a lot of terminology, but as so much of the discussions are terminology-heavy, I’d better go for it.

 

Under Article 3 of the Convention "States have … the sovereign right to exploit their own resources …".  Broadly speaking, this means that the biodiversity of a country belongs to that country, and cannot be exploited without the permission of that country. Article 15 makes it clearer: “Recognizing the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, the authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with the national governments and is subject to national legislation.”.  So if anyone wants to get hold of a ‘genetic resource’ (“genetic material of actual or potential value”) they have to ask the government of the country in which it is found and obey its laws. In practice this may mean getting permission from a variety of bodies and people, including at very local level, to access these ‘resources’.  The general mechanism for this is to make it clear what use is going to be made of the resource and get agreement with the provider country (‘Prior Informed Consent’ - PIC) and then agree a form of contract, a ‘Material Transfer Agreement’ (MAT). This will probably have a section on how any benefits are shared. The benefits might be money, if something gets commercialised, or information, or support for conservation, or a host of other things. So far so good. However, different countries have developed legislation in different ways, and there is real lack of clarity on how legislation in one country might be applied to someone from another country who has exploited genetic material without PIC and MAT. That is part of the background for the desire for an International Regime, so that access can be regulated and compliance can be more easily monitored and enforced.

 

In principle that sounds OK. Stuff growing in my garden belongs to me; you can’t take genes from it without my permission, and if you make money out of those genes I want a cut. In practice, it is a touch more difficult. How does a country know what is being collected and used out, how does it manage the permits it issues, how does it monitor what happens when genetic material is being examined outside the country, and passed between different researchers? Any process put in place is likely to be expensive in time and money; should it apply only to people who are planning to utilise a genetic resource commercially, or to everybody, including those who are carrying out purely academic research with no financial implications? How do you tell which is which? Should the regime apply only to the genetic material or to derivatives (“a naturally occurring biochemical compound resulting from the genetic expression or metabolism of biological or genetic resources, even if they do not contain functional units of heredity”). Should this apply to human genetic material? Should it apply to disease organisms, where it might be important to transfer and use genetic material very rapidly? Of course, one doesn’t just take genetic material from the environment, one takes organisms and extracts the genetic material afterwards. Because of this any legislation tends to be applied to specimens that might be collected, because of the potential benefits from the genetic material within them. So should it apply to commodities, such as potatoes? How does it apply to the exotic pot plants so many of us grow at home?

 

The basis of the discussion is very important; countries have seen and are still seeing money being made by big companies from exploiting genetic information gleaned from organisms they have collected, but no return coming back to the country of origin. The problems in developing a regime that can protect such countries whilst not paralysing other activities in support of the Convention, and can be practically implemented, are considerable.  The proposed text of the regime to be agreed at Nagoya is still being negotiated, and as of this morning still contains much text that is bracketed, which indicates that the negotiators have not yet agreed on the appropriate wording. It is important that we have something out of Nagoya that we can take forward, so we can move forward on this area of the Convention.

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John Jackson is Science Policy Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum.

 

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) published in May 2010 says that, ’The target agreed by the world’s Governments in 2002, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”, has not been met.’

 

Biodiversity loss is not slowing - Jonathan Ballie’s post refers to the Buchart et al. paper in Science that reaches that conclusion with scientific data. The CBD secretary’s note for Nagoya states that not a single country has reported that it has met the 2010 target “to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010”. For the UK, the 2010 JNCC Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket shows that things look good if you are a bat, but less good news for birds and plants.

 

GBO3 is a key document in looking forward from Nagoya and is well worth reading - straightforward and not too technical. It points to some progress on controlling pollution and managing protected areas, but otherwise the global picture looks grim: species diversity; genetic diversity; sustainable use and consumption; habitat loss; invasive species; climate change; access and benefit sharing; policy development; and other areas - for all of these the record is not good.

 

So a question for debate: 2020 will be the next set of targets. What is going to make this approach more of a success than 2010? What needs to change?

 

Twenty 2020 targets have been drafted for Nagoya, part of a 195-page document, and propose for agreement that by 2020 (a somewhat arbitrary selection):

  • Target 1: all people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Target 5: the rate of loss and degradation, and fragmentation, of natural habitats is [at least halved][brought close to zero].
  • Target 10: to have minimized the multiple pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
  • Target 12: the extinction and decline of known threatened species has been prevented and improvement in the conservation status [for at least 10% of them] has been achieved.
  • Target 14: ecosystems that provide essential services and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are safeguarded and/or restored and equitable access to ecosystem services is ensured for all, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities and the poor and vulnerable.
  • Target 19: knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.

 

Ambitious? Extremely. Necessary? Absolutely. Practical? That is up to us.  What are we going to do now that will enable us all to congratulate ourselves on how well we have done since 2010?

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Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK (www.biodiversityislife.net). Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.

 

 

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An interesting development week is the online publication of a report following from the Global Business of Biodiversity conference in the summer. The report, GBOB - A contribution to CBD COP10, has been designed for the CBD to share with the business segment meeting (a side event at the CBD COP10 later this month in Nagoya).

 

As an e-publication the site also links to an easy download and print version of the report. The introduction includes a video keynote from HRH Prince Charles, and a number of extracts and features drawn from other keynote speeches including Secretary of State for Environment, Caroline Spelman. Section 2 highlights comments from the other key speakers from science, policy and industry.

 

However at the heart of the book is Section 1 – a summary of the feedback from delegates. It is their feedback to the CBD, to Nagoya and to international governments which is most important and interesting. This is summarised under seven themes which highlight the main issues and barriers. A strong response from governments at the COP could help address and remove these obstacles and thereby enable businesses to engage more systematically, and not be penalised, in the global market place:

 

 

    • Lack of understanding
    • Communication
    • Markets
    • Regulatory frameworks
    • Reporting and accountability
    • Capacity development
    • Wider integration – the overarching narrative

 


What is most interesting about the report is that while industry is rightly in the frame for being one of the primary causes of biodiversity loss, this shows a growing interest and awareness, and a willingness to address the issues if Governments internationally can set the policy frameworks for them to operate and be regulated within.

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Helen Buckland is UK Director, Sumatran Orangutan Society

 

Orangutan 1 Djuna Ivereigh.jpgHow protecting one species can help protect thousands more - and aid in the fight against climate change too.

 

As awareness about our impact on the world around us grows, so does the power of the flagship species – emblematic animals which draw attention to an urgent environmental issue, or a critical habitat under threat.

 

Take the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), a critically endangered species, and deforestation of the Leuser Ecosystem in northern Sumatra, one of the most biodiverse forests in the world. While these iconic animals consistently win hearts and minds thanks to their intelligence, unique character and striking similarity to humans, many people don’t realise just how much we can achieve through their protection.

 

Like the more numerous, but still endangered, Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), Sumatran orangutans are a fantastic flagship species for Indonesia’s forests, incredible animals that can act as ambassadors for this unique habitat and all the other wildlife within it.

 

By protecting orangutans and their rainforest home, we can help literally thousands of other species, from the world’s smallest fish - Paedocypris progenetica, discovered just a few years ago, to the world’s longest snake, the reticulated python. Then there are the Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos, clouded leopards – the list goes on.

 

Orangutans also play a crucial role in forest regeneration. Spending most of their time up in the trees and with a diet consisting of over 400 different plants and fruits they spread seeds over great distances, helping maintain the diversity of the entire ecosystem.

 

Of course it’s not just plants and animals that benefit as a result; millions of people are dependent on these unique ecosystems too. As well as supplying food, fresh water, fuel and natural medicines, the forests are also crucial for soil fertility, flood control, prevention of fires and more.

 

Orang 2 Nick Tignonsini.jpgThe forests of Indonesia - and of Malaysia, home to Bornean orangutans – are also crucially important in the fight against climate change. The ancient forests of Sumatra and Borneo are vital carbon sinks - especially those on deep peat soils. Deforestation leads to the release of centuries’ worth of carbon stored in the soil and in the trees themselves. Around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the clearance and burning of forests, more than those from transport, and Indonesia is losing its forests faster than any other country.

 

The loss of their rainforest home is the greatest threat pushing the orangutan to the brink of extinction; as forests are burnt, logged and converted to plantation agriculture, the call for their protection becomes ever more urgent. Around half of Sumatra’s forests have been lost in the last 25 years. By working with communities living next to the last remaining orangutan habitat, restoring damaged forests, and supporting local government in protecting the Leuser Ecosystem, we offer a lifeline to Sumatran orangutans, and the thousands of other species they represent.
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Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK (www.biodiversityislife.net). Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.

 

 

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In some extraordinary scenes at the United Nations General Assembly the threats associated with biodiversity loss discussed in today’s special session began with the stark message that; addressing biodiversity loss was not a luxury but a duty. In his remarks Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rang the alarm bells saying biodiversity loss needed an emergency, internationally-agreed rescue package akin to the global bank crisis. He underscored the imperative stressing that Governments had to stop thinking about environmental (biodiversity) protection as a loss but as an investment which Heads of State and all areas of government had to consider alongside the other measures needed to ensure long-term stability.

 

Speakers in the assembly were in accord with the significance of the problem, the European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso highlighting that mitigating climate change and adapting to its impact would be impossible without effective measures to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. While the spokesperson for the Group of 77 developing countries and China said that without comprehensive measures to address biodiversity loss the Millennium Development Goals would be unobtainable.

As the main session took place in the assembly Ahmed Djoghlaf, Chief Executive of the Convention on Biology, held a press conference with biodiversity experts and celebrity champion of the International Year of Biodiversity actor Edward Norton.  Norton urged people to use their purchasing power to influence opinion - saying that in some ways this could have a bigger impact on industry, which is a primary driver of biodiversity impacts, than the progress of government policy. This press conference ended in slightly chaotic scenes as the panel rose to ring a Memorial Bell as a call for recognition of the issues at stake. This event coincided with bell-ringing in sympathy around the world, including here in England by Anglican Churches. Peterborough Cathedral tolled 492 times – one for each species known to have become extinct in England in recent history.

 

However, while the International Year of Biodiversity and the International Bell-ringing were intended to celebrate the importance of Biodiversity there were signs that behind the scenes in the UN the international negotiators were not pulling in harmony, but more like a group of new bell-ringers desperately trying to get into rhythm. There was an undercurrent of concern that next months crucial meeting in Nagoya could end up in a cacophony as efforts to meet agreement falter.

 

There are two primary causes of concern. The first is that one county won’t fully join in. The CBD has almost universal support, now with 194 countries having full status. However, as Ed Norton highlights, the rope left dangling pulls the primary bell in the bell tower – the United States, which only has observer status at the CBD. This is not only hugely politically embarrassing, it has a major impact on key decisions which need to be made in Japan in October when the CBD meets to agree the way forward for the next decade.

 

The second and bigger threat to the world chiming in unison became apparent as the nuances emerged from the speakers in the main assembly meeting. While Brazil, Germany and the EU all heralded the establishment of IPBES (Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) as a major breakthrough, a threat has emerged over its full implementation. This panel, biodiversity’s equivalent to the International Panel on Climate Change is seen as essential in getting better informed responses and action at global and national levels – so what’s the crack in the mould that could put it out of tune?

 

Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira emphasised that there were three components to the Nagoya negotiations which were indivisible, these include:
•    A comprehensive Strategic Plan with new country targets to implement measures to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
•    An agreement on access on benefits – that is how particularly developing countries with important genetic resources in their biodiversity will benefit from any commercial development of these ‘assets’.
•    The creation of an essential strategic and financial plan to build capacity and mobilise the resources required to make the difference.

 

The political problem lies in the indivisible nature of these components and at least some of the countries in the Group of 77 wanting clear agreements on financial support for them – and potentially not supporting the implementation of IPBES if this cannot be agreed.

 

While these issues are surmountable what the CBD and the United Nations are saying is that global society has to change, change fast and change dramatically if the consequences of biodiversity loss are to be avoided – including major setbacks to address climate change and global poverty alleviation. The subtext was clear, that rate of damage caused by man in recent years and in the few decades to come will have a monumental impact for thousands of years to come. And the call is for an unprecedented programme of global ecosystem restoration which has to be supported in all areas of governance from heads of state, through all government departments. The value of ecosystems natural assets has to be in our economic accounting – and this is currently in the RED. The movement towards a green economy places biodiversity centre stage and the greatest challenge of the decade ahead. The representative for Japan – the incoming Presidency of the CBD recognised the imperative calling on the UN accept a resolution that the 2010-2020 be called the International Decade of Biodiversity.

 

What is dispiriting is the real lack of Media interest and response to this event. They could be doing so much more to engage the public and we need millions of people to understand, to ring bells, glockenspiels, mobile ring tones, maracas, bang tins and empty plastic bottles and demand that governments take heed. I hope that Nagoya will be cause for celebration and not the knell for biodiversity actions because of short-sighted and narrow political positioning. To coin a phase, For whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Toll for You, and Me, and You and You and You….

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Dr Chris Lyal studies insects in the Natural History Museum's Department of Entomology, where his speciality is the largest of all beetle groups, the weevils.  As well as his research work he is the UK National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity's Global Taxonomy Initiative and for several years worked as a Programme Officer for the CBD Secretariat.  He has visited many different countries both for research and while working with people on biodiversity policy and capacity-building issues.

 

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has the objectives of conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable access to the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources of biological diversity. However, irrespective of what we decide to do about biological diversity we are unable to do anything very much (other than let it all go extinct) unless we know what that biological diversity actually is. Imagine trying to buy for and then cook a dish from a recipe book if none of the ingredients had names, or planting a new garden from seed if none of the seed packets had the contents identified. Without knowing what species are present in our environment we cannot find out the correct conditions to manage them, we will not be able to tell if populations are rising or falling, we cannot pass legislation to protect them, and we cannot share information about different sites.

 

Some 519 species of birds are recorded from the UK – if I’m honest, I can only identify somewhere between 50 and a hundred of them reliably without recourse to a book. The UK also has some 4,000 species of beetles (4,001 I believe), and no comprehensive book that allows me to identify each one of them. Now each one of these species is (a) of intrinsic interest; (b) carries its own multi-million year ancestry; (c) has a place in the ecosystem, and thus a part in maintaining that ecosystem; (d) has a value to humanity, either through its ecosystem function, its beauty (yes, even beetles) or its ability to do a job for us (like beetles eating their way through tons of invasive weed). If the people we ask to manage our environment cannot identify the species they are managing, they will be unable to ensure the species are still there in ten year time, let alone a thousand. They cannot be conserved, nor used in a sustainable way. Oh, and an additional problem: so far we have given names to around 1.8 million different species of animals, plants and microroganisms around the world; we think there may be around 30 million altogether. Most biodiversity is unnamed.

 

Which brings me to taxonomy. Institutions such as the Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew have on their staff experts in naming and identifying species, the science called taxonomy. They also have vast collections of specimens from all over the world, and scientists from all over the world come to use them and solve problems in their own countries. This expertise and these collections are a vital part of managing biodiversity, and so are important to the CBD. So important, in fact, that the CBD set up a separate policy area just about the science, the “Global Taxonomy Initiative”. This is intended to create the policies needed to train and employ more taxonomists, build up collections and infrastructure, and above all make sure that taxonomic work is directed to producing the information needed at the right time and delivered to the right people in a way they can use it. At the Nagoya meeting there will be further discussion of taxonomy, and how it needs to be directed to support the management of biodiversity around the world.

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Martin Spray became WWT's chief executive in 2004 but dates his passion for nature back to boyhood. His earliest memories include the thrill of finding butterfly chrysalis in the hedgerows near his London home and of charting the life cycles of frogs, newts and toads in the family’s tiny backyard pond.

 

Today he is building on all his past experiences to confirm the Trust as a leading international conservation organisation - protecting endangered wildlife, promoting the value of sustainable wetland management, conducting leading edge scientific research and giving people of all ages new and engaging opportunities to engage with the natural world for mutual benefit. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)

 

As we reflect on the run up to Nagoya, I think it's fair to say that it's hard to be optimistic, but optimistic we must be.

 

Every nation around the world has failed to deliver on the 2010 target to stem biodiversity loss and we’re now even further away from where we started out. While it is understood that we are suffering the worst recession since the 1930s, evidence shows that if we don’t invest in natural systems like wetlands now, the cost to society may soon parallel or even exceed that of the banking crisis.

 

This is the challenge to which the negotiators at Nagoya must rise.

 

There is hope though. Evidence is mounting that taking action for biodiversity works for society and, if we work wisely by aligning our interests, aims and problems to the natural world, we can achieve what we want and redress biodiversity.

 

The UN’s REDD+ programme links action on climate change to conservation on the ground and the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study has grabbed the attention of business and government alike by putting a value on the benefit of building biodiversity into decisions.

 

To give an example from the field, I have colleagues who have been working in Koshi Tappu, Nepal, one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Asia. With their local partners they have helped rid the waterways of invasive plants by helping communities establish an economy based on harvesting those plants and turning them into fuel or compost.

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Images: Harvesting invasive plants from waterways in Koshi Tappu, Nepal, one of the most important wetlands for migratory birds in Asia. © Matthew Simpson, WWT Consulting.

 

WWT’s hope is that what is agreed at Nagoya will clear the way for governments to put these initiatives into practice around the world – imagine a world in 2050 in which invasive species are fully under control, and the benefits are shared in an equitable way.

 

We are looking to the UK government to be a leader at the talks, but the real test will be once everyone has gone home. We will be watching closely to see whether the UK’s ambition in Nagoya is then reflected in its domestic policies. We can't keep justifying our actions based on economics without accounting for the natural world.

 

For example, there has been plenty of speculation that the Cardiff-Weston Severn barrage will be rejected because the economy can't support that level of investment. WWT, while supporting the need for more renewable energy generation, is not a supporter of that particular project, but wouldn’t it be disappointing if that is the sole reason for its rejection. The truth is that the economy and society more broadly can't afford the level of disruption that the barrage would cause to the natural world and that needs to be acknowledged.

 

Could the Nagoya agreement mean that such a destructive scheme will never be put forward in the name of climate change again?

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Stanley Johnson is an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species and author of several books on environmental issues. His most recent book is Survival: Saving Endangered Migratory Species.

 

A few months ago I traveled in a hot-air balloon over vast herds of wild animals as they migrated from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park into Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Reserve.  The sight was unbelievable, unforgettable.  As far as the eye could see the plains were black with animals.  One and a half million wildebeest; half a million zebra; another half million topis, elands and Thompson’s gazelles.  This truly is one of the world’s great migrations, perhaps the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth.

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Migrating wildebeest and zebra, Mara River, Kenya © Stanley Johnson

 

For the last five years, as I researched my most recent book, I have been privileged to visit the most far-flung corners of the globe.  I have been in the Sahara desert, in the very heart of Niger, looking for the addax, the rarest of all desert antelopes.  I have trekked gorillas in both Central and West Africa, spent time with giant river otters in Brazil’s Pantanal and in the Amazon, and camped among the orangutans in Borneo’s now much-threatened forests.


This has been one of the most exciting projects I have ever undertaken.  One day, in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes I saw at least twenty blue whales, thought to be the largest of all the creatures that have even lived on this planet, a species which for decades has been hovering on the edge of extinction. Last summer, on Española Island in the Galapagos, I was able to observe at close quarters colonies of waved albatross.


Migratory animals constitute those 8 to 10 thousand of the world’s 1.8 million known species.  Because many of them move from country to country, mostly between feeding and breeding grounds, international action is often essential. The battle to save the world’s endangered migratory species can itself be seen in the context of the wider struggle to conserve global biodiversity. Since January 2007 I have been honoured to be an Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).  Under the auspices of the CMS, more than two dozen international treaties and other instruments have been negotiated with a view to protecting migratory species.


The challenges that remain are great.  Treaties have to be implemented, as well as signed.  New threats are constantly arising.  As I write, plans are afoot to drive a road right through the heart of the Serengeti with untold consequences for migrating wildlife.   At a recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission.  the international moratorium on commercial whaling came close to unraveling. The consequences for wildlife, such as marine turtles, of the horrendous oil-spill in the Gulf of Mexico have still to be assessed, as do the implications for species like the orangutan of the mad rush, mandated by the EU, to fill our cars with biodiesel made from palm-oil, not to speak of the impact of global warming on migratory patterns.


Now is the time to seize the opportunity to draw attention, in this context, to the astonishing biological treasure represented by migratory species, and of the threats which they face.   I hope these efforts may inspire decision-makers, both in the UK and elsewhere, even at this time of financial crisis and budgetary stringency, to press for more effective action to protect some of nature’s most precious resources.

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David Ng is a science literacy academic based at the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, Canada.  His interests generally look at unconventional intersections between public outreach, creative art, science education, as well as web dynamics.  He is currently on sabbatical at the Natural History Museum, London and encourages you to check out the PHYLO project.

 

I just noticed, with some amusement, that the 2010 Toy of the Year is something akin to a cute robotic rodent. Specifically, they are called Zhu Zhu Pets, a mechanical universe of furry and mobile hamsters, expandable with a hamster-like ecosystem complete with wheels, balls, and see through tunnels. The fact that this was announced during the International Year of Biodiversity seems deliciously ironic but maybe also informative?

 

Lest you think my thoughts on biodiversity outreach and education will settle uncomfortably on robotics, or perhaps even more frightening, hamsters, let me reassure you that, instead, I think this nugget of toy trivia highlights a problem with developed society in general. That is, we and more importantly, our children, have an apparent lack of connection with nature. After all, I'm pretty sure that any patch of green will reveal much more interesting examples of ‘animals that move’, which is unfortunate, because despite this obvious logic, I suspect that when presented to the eyes of the young, we all know who will win in a ‘Zhu Zhu versus the Green’ showdown.

 

This lack of connection is, I think, a very bad thing. In our television, computer, and now robot hamster driven world, we appear to be slowly losing the will to go outside and simply ‘take a look.’

 

After all, the act of going outdoors to look for biodiversity is still one of those few things that allow the citizen and child to undergo the very real act of discovery - a wondrous sensation that is not soon forgotten and often an entry into both awe for the environment and respect for the scientific method. Still, this is something that requires a bit of effort: a quick look doesn't suffice - you need a good long look, sometimes in the rain, which is perhaps why in the end the objects with batteries are winning.

 

There is, of course, another interpretation of connection. In this case, I'm referring to the general importance of biodiversity in the things that are near and dear to us, even things that an average person might not quickly equate with the natural world. Take our Toy of the Year as an example. No doubt, Zhu Zhu pets would not have been possible without careful study of the original prototype (an actual hamster). We can safely assume that the wheels would work a little less efficiently without our knowledge and use of materials from the rubber plant. The table from which people sat around to develop this toy idea was probably made of wood. I can also surmise that the room where this table might be found, is likely in a city or town placed ‘just so’ on a map, chosen to be there because the location was close to natural resources like forests for materials, soil rich in microbes for agriculture, a river ecology for clean water and transport. And let us not forget the food fuel required to power the minds that came up with the idea in the first place!

Seriously, it goes on. Truth is, if you were to imagine yourself part of a cult, one that rigorously abhorred the very thought of using anything connected to nature - a sort of extreme anti-vegan philosophy - your life would be severely lacking. Indeed, you might also be dead.

 

All to say that I think my point is this: that biodiversity education represents a wonderful opportunity to connect things. Whether it's the linkage between a child's thrilled senses and the backyard, or a person's bottom line to their natural surroundings, there is value in the discussion of biodiversity as yet another means to provide a holistic context in this noisy and frenetic world. In other words, why not with even more vigour, promote this connection to nature?

 

And how would this be achieved? I'd imagine this is already happening in wonderful ways, in many places, many projects. More so, I'd imagine that there are many opportunities where these values can be more emphatically applied. But I think this is where having a venue like this website where readers can post their ideas is fitting. Biodiversity is great because it is on the one hand represented by brilliant diversity and variety, and yet on the other hand, is unified in theme and focus.

 

Shouldn't there be an educational prerogative that works in the same way? I'd like to think so, since I know that that is one kind of noise I and others would love to hear more about.

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Paul Wilkinson is head of Living Landscapes for The Wildlife Trusts, and has responsibility for leading and supporting the achievement of their Living Landscapes vision across the UK. www.wildlifetrusts.org

 

Conservation groups such as The Wildlife Trusts will never give up our efforts to protect the UK's wildlife and habitats, but the truth is this can't be enough to ensure a bright future for biodiversity into the 21st century and beyond. Although we manage around 2,300 nature reserves across the UK, it's still not enough - we need nature to be thriving on a landscape scale.

 

The Wildlife Trusts' vision for A Living Landscape, a recovery plan for nature, was launched in 2006 and there are now more than 100 landscape scale schemes across the UK, covering over 3.5million acres.

Pumlumon_Highland_cow.jpg

Image: Pumlumon, Montgomeryshire, the site of one of The Wildlife Trusts flagship Living Landscape schemes. © Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust

 

In trying to deliver these schemes we are working amid Government policies that tell us how land should be used and managed, few of them designed with nature in mind and virtually none actively supporting its restoration. Decisions about land use are being made by different organisations and government departments, with different interests, but this decision making is not aligned or suitably integrated towards achieving a common vision, and so wildlife and the natural services on which we all depend continue to decline.

 

Ahead of the General Election this year we were pushing for a White Paper on the natural environment as a way of addressing this. We envisioned this being a new driver to restore the natural environment, putting wildlife back on the front foot. It was a great cause for celebration when the coalition Government committed to a Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) in England. It's currently at a public consultation stage, where anyone can submit their views on what should be included. You can find out more on our website. We'd recommend doing so to anyone with an interest in nature and wildlife.

 

From The Wildlife Trusts' point of view, the NEWP should ensure all our existing wildlife areas are fully protected and valued, that they are enlarged and connected so wildlife can move between them, and that we are making the most of natural processes for the purposes of flood prevention, carbon absorption and crop pollination. It should also see partnerships continuing to develop between central and local government, businesses, communities, voluntary sector and landowners - a joint commitment to restoring nature. Wildlife, with the myriad benefits it brings, should be part of all of our lives. And Government needs to provide the impetus and means for this to happen.

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Dr Chris Lyal studies insects in the Natural History Museum's Department of Entomology, where his speciality is the largest of all beetle groups, the weevils.  As well as his research work he is the UK National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity's Global Taxonomy Initiative and for several years worked as a Programme Officer for the CBD Secretariat.  He has visited many different countries both for research and while working with people on biodiversity policy and capacity-building issues.

 

Over the past 20 years there has been a lot of interest in ‘biodiversity’ – the variety of animals, plants and microorganisms on Earth, their genetic makeup and the ecosystems in which they live.  There have been peaks and troughs – a peak with the massive excitement globally at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992, when the world’s leaders seemed to pick up the biodiversity flag, and troughs with continued threats to ecosystems from rainforests to seabed, and no clear turning point to a more secure future.

 

So what happened to the tide of optimism generated in Rio?  We got a ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ out of it, but what has it done, and what will it achieve at its next major meeting in Nagoya?  At one level, the Convention (‘CBD’) has achieved a vast amount.  With 192 signatory countries, plus the European Union, it is the largest Environmental Convention.  It has 42 legally-binding provisions, and its major biennial meetings (the Conference of the Parties – ‘COP’) have taken nearly 250 detailed 'Decisions' about how the CBD should be implemented and what should be prioritised.  These have led to a great deal of work across the world, and money directed to biodiversity issues.  On the other hand, hardly anybody seems to have heard about it or, if they have, they have only a hazy idea of what it does.

 

The CBD is a policy process, a forum where global agreement can be reached and policies adopted.  However, these policies (the COP ‘Decisions’) are for national implementation, and are not legally binding.  Under the CBD “States have … the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental policies …”.  Biodiversity does not belong to all humanity as it did before Rio, but belongs to the countries in which it exists.  The CBD cannot fund implementation, and does not have staff to take part in ‘hands-on’ biodiversity work.  Thus projects tend not to be clearly labelled ‘CBD’ and it is difficult to see what CBD policies are achieving.  The policies themselves are written in complex language, and are far from ‘user-friendly’ to most of us.

 

CBD policies are not just about conservation, but are in support of the three equally-important objectives: Conservation, Sustainable Use, and Fair and Equitable Access to the Benefits arising out of the utilization of Genetic Resources of Biological Diversity.  In terms of general understanding, ‘conservation’ is pretty easy, and many people stop there.  ‘Sustainable use’ is rather more complex, especially when we are not very clear about what that use is.  In fact ‘use’ encompasses everything from aesthetic enjoyment to spiritual support to food and water provision to pollination and a whole range of other ‘environmental goods and services’ – the life support system of good old ‘Planet Earth’.  In that framework ‘sustainable’ might mean anything from ‘exactly as it is now / was at some time in the past’ to ‘enough to allow us to survive’.  In fact, since the issue is rarely discussed in a comprehensive way, the decisions on what action to take to ensure sustainability are rarely addressed and even more rarely put into practice.  I’ll come back to benefits from genetic resources in another post, because the nub of the matter is discussion, understanding and action.

 

In Nagoya the CBD COP will meet for the tenth time.  As with previous COPs, hundreds of government servants and others will spend the first week hammering out the details of new Decisions. In the second week environment ministers will join the stew to deal with any national political issues that can’t be addressed by the other attendees and then agree the final texts.  One of the major outcomes will be a new Strategic Plan for the CBD, including targets for 2020.  Whether those targets can be met depends entirely on how willing people across the world are to prioritise them against other policies, and to tell Government how much time, money and effort should be directed towards meeting them.  This has been an issue all along; Government may agree to CBD policies but can only implement them – bring the necessary benefits to biodiversity (and us!) – if voters want this to happen.  If we do not fully understand what these policies are, or even know they exist, there is little chance that Government can take the next important steps.

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