Biodiversity, it’s now or never

26 February 2010 | News story
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World leaders need to take decisive action this year to save biodiversity, action that is based on sound science, says IUCN's Director General, Julia Marton-Lefèvre in this month's opinion article.

Our food comes from supermarkets, our water from the tap, and our medicine from the pharmacy. One button is normally enough to heat or cool things; one flush to start decomposing our waste; one remote control to find cultural or spiritual inspiration.

Or so it often seems. It is easy to forget that all of this, without exception, comes directly or indirectly from nature. The fundamental realities of our life on earth have not changed.

We still need fresh water to drink, food to eat, clean air to breathe and medicine when we are sick. Our crops still need to be pollinated. We still need natural beauty to fulfill our artistic, religious and spiritual lives. Nature is quite simply the basic infrastructure of all our societies, economies and culture.

These are ecosystem services, the services that nature provides, mostly for free. They are the vital support that our societies, economies and cultures need to survive and thrive. The natural infrastructure that provides all of these fundamental services is biodiversity: the enormous variety of plants, animals and their natural habitats, linked intricately and elegantly together in billions of ways.

But this essential infrastructure is breaking down, at an ever-quickening pace. In the never-ending quest to improve our lives – and especially in recent decades – we have been disturbing and destroying ecosystems, the natural places where plants, animals and micro-organisms live together.

Our wanton use and abuse of nature has caused many unique species to become extinct. In short, we are destroying the very natural infrastructure that supports us, at an ever-increasing rate.

A country that does not maintain its road or rail infrastructure will crumble and damage its economic growth. Our natural infrastructure, infinitely more necessary to our prosperity – will also break down without protection.

22 % of all known mammals,
30 % of all known amphibians,
12 % of all known birds, 
28 % of reptiles,
37 % of freshwater fish,
70 % of plants,
35 % of invertebrates assessed so far,
are under threat.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s regular health check on biodiversity and it makes for alarming reading.

According to the latest update of the Red List, 22 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, and 28 percent of reptiles, 37 percent of freshwater fish species, 70 percent of plants, 35 percent of invertebrates, assessed so far, are under threat.

The current global rate of species extinction is estimated to be one thousand times the 'natural' rate of loss in pre-human times. And it is accelerating.

A road can be repaired, but a species that goes extinct is lost forever.

More than 60% of
ecosystem services
worldwide are degraded.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a recent study by more than 1,300 scientists over four years, found that more than 60% of ecosystem services worldwide are degraded. Huge areas of forest have disappeared, fisheries have collapsed, rivers and wetlands are polluted.

Another major study, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), reported last year that the annual global cost of biodiversity and ecosystem damage already runs to several trillion dollars.

The world’s
1.1 billion poor people
depend on nature.

The study also tells us that half the welfare of the world’s 1.1 billion poor people flows from nature. Biodiversity loss deprives our descendants of vast benefits. Biodiversity loss cuts us off from the wonders of nature, makes us less human.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. More than 190 countries, through the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed in 2002 on a target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

Although information is incomplete on global and local trends, and we lack baselines and metrics, it is painfully clear that this objective – vague and difficult to measure as it has been – will not be met.

But there is no ‘in 10 years time’, or ‘in 20 years time’. We do not have this luxury. This year is the International Year of Biodiversity. This year is the time to take action.

In October 2010, the Convention
on Biological Diversity will evaluate
the 2010 target and agree on new
biodiversity targets

In September this year, the UN General Assembly will address the biodiversity crisis for the first time. In October, the Convention will meet in Nagoya, Japan to evaluate the 2010 target and agree on new biodiversity targets for the world.

World leaders need to thrash out a new commitment to protect and invest in our natural infrastructure before it is too late.

We need realistic targets
and simple indicators
to measure progress.

They must sign up to a clear biodiversity roadmap for this coming decade with realistic targets and strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. 

To measure progress we need indicators that are simple, relevant, measurable, locally and globally scalable, and designed for use by all: governments, business, academia and civil society.

We must address
the direct causes
of biodiversity loss

The direct causes of biodiversity loss – habitat destruction on land and at sea, resource overexploitation, climate change, pollution, invasive species – as well as indirect causes such as unsustainable consumption, globalization and demographic change, must be included in any deal.

All types of species and natural habitats have to be included, not just the ones that make it on television. We need to better protect and manage natural places where biodiversity can thrive. Areas that are specifically protected, such as national parks and World Heritage sites, are extremely important in preventing biodiversity loss.

And the roadmap must be inextricably linked to the climate roadmap, reflecting the crucial role of resilient ecosystems in helping us reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change.

We need a clear
of the facts.

Effective action starts with a clear understanding of the facts. We need above all good science. From Charles Darwin to the latest IUCN research we have learned a lot about biodiversity, but there is so much that we don’t know.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has demonstrated that independent, credible research can be carried out in a way that is useful to those who take decisions affecting our planet. We must give the same financial and political support to the newly proposed Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

We need a clear timeline:
By 2015 - take action to deal with causes of biodiversity loss.
By 2020 - stop biodiversity loss.
By 2050 - restore forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other habitats.

Moreover the timeline must be clear and logical. By 2015, put in place actions to deal with what causes biodiversity loss. By 2020 stop biodiversity loss completely. By 2050, achieve a vision that sees forests, wetlands, coral reefs and other habitats comprehensively restored to give us a truly resilient natural infrastructure.

If a third of your family were threatened with extinction, or if only one third of your business was productive, or if you were losing trillions of dollars a year, would you be worried? Would you do something about it?

This is the question for all of us as we head to Nagoya, especially the politicians who will sign the deal.

We are the species that caused this problem. We are the only species that can fix it. This year is the time to do it.


10 Comentarios
2 Stephen R Miles
Nagoya Agreement & UK Activities
Great news about the result of the Biodiversity Conference in Nagoya. But the final result still fails to make the link between human population growth, economic growth and wildlife conservation. Unless the World (and the UK) addresses the need for a reduction in human numbers and in all the developed nation's greed for an ever higher standard of living we will still be in a worse situation in 2020. What are world stockmarkets and multinationals still looking for at present? They are all looking for economic growth but all this growth comes at a cost to the world's wildlife.
October 31, 2010 - 10:43
3 Trang Bui
I live in Viet Nam where have high biodiversity. But I saw many hills not grow forest only corn. When corn have harvest, totally hills not tree. How do we save biodiversity in the developing country? Not easy!
June 29, 2010 - 05:00
4 Margaret
More plants are threatened than any other group of living species on earth today, yet they provide the basis for all life forms by their ability to sequester and recycle. Plants give us food, shelter, timber and the majority of our medicines. Plant conservation is essential for all species.
March 23, 2010 - 16:40
5 K. Noren Singh
I would say that the Scholarly statement is made at the right time when it is needed. Of course, it is now to think that all forms of life on this earth are our family members and mother earth is our home.Let us check any activities which would harm to our family members and nature& picture of home.
March 12, 2010 - 03:51
6 nishith bansode
ya, that's a realistic article, the conservation practices that are easy to adopt, and which is sustainable in nature, which can give a balance to our modern society and traditional forest dwellers should be in practice. yes we also need a clear timeline to protect our common interest, we should str
March 6, 2010 - 13:17
Yes I agree with the above scholarly article, where it signifies about Biodiversity, with facts and figures, how, when and what to do.yes its the time to think, paln and do some thing special for Biodiversity. I can spare some time if any activity(ies) to be held in Mountains of Norhtern Pakistan.
March 5, 2010 - 19:29
8 KS Naveen
Documents like this with statistics will help people like me who are into conservation education. I will be translating it into the regional language and use in education programs. I wish your other documents come in regional languages. They hardly has any scientific literature scientific literatur
March 2, 2010 - 05:50
9 Mauri Ahlberg
I would like to add that in order to promote species identification for sustainable use of biodiversity, the most rapid and easiest-to-use option is NatureGate. IUCN CEC writes about it:
March 1, 2010 - 23:41
10 buddhi
I like this articles. Of course! we still need fresh food, still need to be pollinated our crops, morethan this we still save this natrure to our futrure generations. So biodiversity is rich in developing countries and urgent need to save that areas. In which developed countries are responsible .
February 27, 2010 - 12:06
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