11 May 2010

Global Biodiversity Outlook: bleak but not too late yet

The report card on global biodiversity is out.

And the results are not good. But there is still hope.

What is the Global Biodiversity Outlook?
It is a report based on scientific assessments, national reports submitted by governments and a study on future scenarios for biodiversity. It is produced by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and subject to an extensive independent scientific review process. The publication of this the third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) is one of the principal milestones of the UN's International Year of Biodiversity.

What are some of the findings?
The report confirms that the world has failed to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. In particular, the report warns that losses may be irreversible if they reach "tipping points" such as:
  • Dieback of large areas of the Amazon forest, due to climate change, deforestation and fires. Resulting in further global climate and regional rainfall changes and widespread species extinctions.
  • Multiple collapses of coral reef ecosystems, due to a combination of ocean acidification, warmer water leading to bleaching, overfishing and nutrient pollution. Impacting hundreds of millions of species directly dependent on coral reefs.
How big is the problem?
Here's some charts from the report to give a quick idea of the monumental size of the issues:

From Global Biodiversity Outlook 3: Executive summary (pdf)

Most indicators of the state of biodiversity show negative trends, with no significant reduction in the rate of decline.
There is no evidence of a slowing in the increase of pressures upon biodiversity, based on the trend shown by indicators of humanity’s ecological footprint, nitrogen deposition, alien species introductions, overexploited fish stocks and the impact of climate change on biodiversity.
The limited indicators of the benefits derived by humans from biodiversity also show negative trends.
In contrast, all indicators of the responses to address biodiversity loss are moving in a positive direction. More areas are being protected for biodiversity, more policies and laws are being introduced to avoid damage from invasive alien species, and more money is being spent in support of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its objectives.
The overall message from these indicators is that despite the many efforts taken around the world to conserve biodiversity and use it sustainably, responses so far have not been adequate to address the scale of biodiversity loss or reduce the pressures.

From "State of Biodiversity in Asia and the Pacific" (pdf)

Figure I. Threatened plant and animal species, Asia and the Pacific, 2008 (Statistics Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific)
Figure II. Ratio of protected terrestrial areas to surface area, 1990–2008 (Statistics Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific)
Figure III. Ratio of protected marine areas to territorial water, 1990–2008 (Statistics Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific)

Are there any solutions?
Among the key recommended approaches is for policymakers to give equal priority to biodiversity loss and climate change. The two challenges are linked and must be dealt with in close co-ordination, if the most severe impacts of each are to be avoided. Conserving biodiversity and ecosystems can help to store more carbon, reducing further build-up of greenhouse gases; and people will be better able to adapt to unavoidable climate change if ecosystems are more resilient.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme says:
"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,"

"Many countries are beginning to factor natural capital into some areas of economic and social life with important returns, but this needs rapid and sustained scaling-up."

"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."
In outlining a possible new strategy for reducing biodiversity loss, the report includes addressing patterns of consumption, the impacts of increased trade and demographic change. Ending harmful subsidies would also be an important step.

The report and a new Strategic Plan for the Convention on Biological Diversity will be dealt with at the 2010 Nagoya Biodiversity Summit to be held in October. One of the key elements of this strategy is:
Communication, education and awareness-raising to ensure that as far as possible, everyone understands the value of biodiversity and what steps they can take to protect it, including through changes in personal consumption and behavior.

You CAN make a difference for our biodiversity!
Here's more on what one person can do.

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