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Big Nature Debate

6 Posts tagged with the biodiversity_loss tag
7

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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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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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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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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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.

 

 

Bob_Bloomfield.jpgThe recent Mori Poll confirming that British people are concerned about the loss of species is no surprise. For many years we have worked to protect areas of outstanding natural beauty such as our network of national parks. As a nation of nature lovers we take great interest in our wildlife. While many of us do this from our armchairs, many others volunteer with NGOs such as the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB, and a host of other societies. Good progress has been made in protecting pockets of nature and specific species. Despite this over the past decade the United Kingdom, like the other 193 signatory countries to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, has failed to meet the overall target of reversing biodiversity loss.

 

Biodiversity is the variety of living things, so biodiversity loss is happening at all levels – a decline in the genetic variety within species, individual species being pushed to the brink of extinction, and the decline in the variety of diverse habitats and ecosystems. What is happening now is without precedent, scientists estimate the current rate of extinction is maybe 1000 times the natural rate, and this erosion is due to human activities, primarily the consequence of the combined effects of human population growth and resource demands. These in turn fuel massive land-use changes with the expansion of agriculture and fishing, transport systems and urbanization, along with a host of industrial process with cause pollution through extraction, processing and waste disposal.

 

So here we get to the rub of the issue, while the efforts of Government environment departments, NGOs and volunteer organisations are having success, this is not dealing with the root cause of biodiversity loss which is the impact overall of human activity. Looking ahead to make a real difference humans need to look see things differently and do things differently.

 

The good news is that we are also becoming more aware of our dependence on biodiversity. Without green plants we would have no oxygen to breath. With no insects there would be no pollination of all the plants which provide our foods, fabrics, fuels and the host of other products for human use. Invertebrates, bacteria and fungi prevent us from being buried in our own waste and natural material would not be recycled which is essential for the maintenance of fertile soil. Without forests and moor land Insurance companies would pale at the risks of floods and drought, as these systems act like sponges to buffer the movement of rain to our rivers. Without genetic variety in nature we would have nowhere to turn to find the new strains of crops resistant to emerging pests and diseases, or for the natural pharmacopeia which is the basis for developing new medicines to protect people and our livestock. Even more significant today when we face the prospect of human induced climate change is the biological capability of forests, reef, ocean plankton, marches and bogs and other ecological systems to take in and lock away the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As humans allow biodiversity to degrade we threaten these Ecosystem Services, as they are called, and many more which I haven’t even mentioned.

 

Even more astounding is the emerging understanding of the economic cost of this loss. Conservative estimates of the economic costs of forest loss alone are between $2-4000000000000000000 ($2-4 trillion) each year (equivalent to about two global bank crises a year). Which brings me around to why it is so disturbing that so few people are aware of the meeting of the Convention On Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya in October, when targets for the future protection of biodiversity will be set.

 

The Rio Earth Summit in1992 highlighted three agendas to be addressed; climate change; sustainable economic development; and biodiversity loss. What is now abundantly clear is that these are not separate agendas; quite the contrary, if we cannot address biodiversity loss we cannot hope to succeed in either of the other two, human society has to see all three as intimately bound and needing to be addressed together. As a life-long naturalist and environmentalist this is self-evident, that our complex interacting living system earth is something which we cannot be apart from, and if we do not tend to its vital organs, its oceans, rivers and forests, we will suffer as it declines. The good news is that the new economic awareness of the importance of biodiversity might be understood in the world in international politics and so we may see positive outcomes from Nagoya.

 

However biodiversity action needs the understanding of people too. People who can provide the mandate to ensure politicians provide the policy framework that will make a difference. People in business who can champion the green economy of which biodiversity preservation is a central part; and ordinary people who have the vision to see a world where we make space for biodiversity is the only way to ensure the health wealth and wellbeing of future generations.