Saturday, May 15, 2010

Collapsing biodiversity is a 'wake-up call for humanity

May 10, 2010

A joint report released today by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) finds that our natural support systems are on the verge of collapsing unless radical changes are made to preserve the world's biodiversity. Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ahmed Djoghlaf, called the bleak report "a wake-up call for humanity."

The report is the third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3). Employing scientific assessments and 110 government reports, the report confirms that governments around the world have failed in their 2002 pledge to reduce biodiversity loss by this year. Instead, the five biggest causes behind biodiversity loss—habitat destruction, over-exploitation of resources, pollution, invasive species, and climate change—have either worsened or stayed the same.

"We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind," Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, said.

In addition the report warns that several ecosystems are heading toward tipping points from which they may never recover. Due to a combination of climate change, deforestation, and fires, the Amazon rainforest may change irrevocably; while coral reefs are being pounded by overfishing, warmer waters, and ocean acidification; finally freshwater ecosystems like lakes and rivers are losing biodiversity and abundance due to nutrient runoff.

"Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet," Djoghlaf said.

Officials are increasingly comparing the current biodiversity crisis to the global economic meltdown of 2008-2009, stating that while governments moved quickly to tackle the economic crisis they have responded languidly to the many threats to the world's environmental systems. These systems underpin the human economy by providing food, clean water, pollination, pest control, buffers from natural disasters, medicine, and carbon sequestration to name a few of their natural goods, known to researchers as 'ecosystem services'.

"For a fraction of the money summoned up instantly to avoid economic meltdown, we can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems," write the report's authors.

Yet, Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UNEP, says that "many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere."

The report calls on governments to begin considering biodiversity when taking action. Governments should directly address the causes behind biodiversity loss including consumption, demographic changes, and trade. Ending harmful subsidies is also suggested.

"To tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss, we must give it higher priority in all areas of decision-making and in all economic sectors," says Ban Ki-Moon.

Ending biodiversity loss will help in the fight against poverty and hunger, while improving human health, security, and wealth for the current and future generations, according to the report.

The report will be a focal point for the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit in October, which will be attended by all 193 parties of the CBD. One of the world's largest economies, the United States, is not a member. The only other political entities that have not ratified the treaty are the Vatican and Andorra.

In spite of the report, business continues as usual worldwide with, for example, New Zealand attempting to push through a plan to allow mining in protected areas; US congress proposing to give 85,000 acres of old-growth temperate rainforest to a logging company in Alaska; Brazil moving ahead on its controversial Belo Monte dam that would flood 500 square miles of rainforest; and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) failing to protect a single marine species in its most recent meeting.

"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050," says Steiner.

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