Biodiversity failure

In 2002 there was a global agreement to slow biodiversity loss by 2010. We failed, and biodiversity is still declining at an alarming rate.

Here is a recent article abstract from Science:

In 2002, world leaders committed through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. We compiled 31 indicators to report on progress toward this target. Most indicators of the state of biodiversity (covering species’ population trends, extinction risk, habitat extent/condition, and community composition) showed declines, with no significant recent reductions in rate, whereas indicators of pressures on biodiversity (including resource consumption, invasive alien species, nitrogen pollution, overexploitation, and climate change impacts) showed increases. Despite some local successes and increasing responses (including extent and biodiversity coverage of protected areas, sustainable forest management, policy responses to invasive alien species, and biodiversity-related aid), the rate of biodiversity loss does not appear to be slowing.

And here is parts of the executive summary of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3

There are multiple indications of continuing decline in biodiversity in all three of its main components — genes, species and ecosystems — including:

  • Species which have been assessed for extinction risk are on average moving closer to extinction. Amphibians face the greatest risk and coral species are deteriorating most rapidly in status. Nearly a quarter of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction.
  • The abundance of vertebrate species, based on assessed populations, fell by nearly a third on average between 1970 and 2006, and continues to fall globally, with especially severe declines in the tropics and among freshwater species.
  • Natural habitats in most parts of the world continue to decline in extent and integrity, although there has been significant progress in slowing the rate of loss for tropical forests and mangroves, in some regions. Freshwater wetlands, sea ice habitats, salt marshes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and shellfish reefs are all showing serious declines.
  • Extensive fragmentation and degradation of forests, rivers and other ecosystems have also led to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Crop and livestock genetic diversity continues to decline in agricultural systems.
  • The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss (habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change) are either constant or increasing in intensity.
  • The ecological footprint of humanity exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth by a wider margin than at the time the 2010 target was agreed.

The loss of biodiversity is an issue of profound concern for its own sake. Biodiversity also underpins the functioning of ecosystems which provide a wide range of services to human societies. Its continued loss, therefore, has major implications for current and future human well-being. The provision of food, fibre, medicines and fresh water, pollination of crops, filtration of pollutants, and protection from natural disasters are among those ecosystem services potentially threatened by declines and changes in biodiversity. Cultural services such as spiritual and religious values, opportunities for knowledge and education, as well as recreational and aesthetic values, are also declining.

And while both the Science article and the Global Biodiversity Outlook report indicate that some progress has been made, and there are examples of local successes. But they are few and far between:

However, action to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity has not been taken on a sufficient scale to address the pressures on biodiversity in most places. There has been insufficient integration of biodiversity issues into broader policies, strategies and programmes, and the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss have not been addressed significantly. Actions to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity receive a tiny fraction of funding compared to activities aimed at promoting infrastructure and industrial developments. Moreover, biodiversity considerations are often ignored when such developments are designed, and opportunities Most future scenarios project continuing high levels of extinctions and loss of habitats throughout this century, with associated decline of some ecosystem services important to human well-being.

The bottom line is that:

There is a high risk of dramatic biodiversity loss and accompanying degradation of a broad range of ecosystem services if ecosystems are pushed beyond certain thresholds or tipping points. The poor would face the earliest and most severe impacts of such changes, but ultimately all societies and communities would suffer.

The fact is that we all depend on ecosystem to survive, yet we take them for granted. That has to change. Every ecosystem service we loos makes us poorer.

The real benefits of biodiversity, and the costs of its loss, need to be reflected within economic systems and markets. Perverse subsidies and the lack of economic value attached to the huge benefits provided by ecosystems have contributed to the loss of biodiversity. Through regulation and other measures, markets can and must be harnessed to create incentives to safeguard and strengthen, rather than to deplete, our natural infrastructure. The re-structuring of economies and financial systems following the global recession provides an opportunity for such changes to be made. Early action will be both more effective and less costly than inaction or delayed action.

Much like properly pricing carbon can allow the market to address the issue of global warming, including the benefits of biodiversity, and the costs of its loss into economic models and policy will allow the market to address this issue. The task of pricing biodiversity isn’t trivial, but it is essential.

The question is, do we have the will to do so?

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