The relationship between humans and nature is under intense and growing tension. A report released today IPBESIntergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (similar IPCC climate change reports), provides compelling evidence that humans are overexploiting wildlife species and habitats. Harmful activities, including habitat destruction, poor agriculture, and pollution, have significantly altered ecosystems, pushing many species beyond the point of recovery. In the UK alone, of the 8,431 species assessed in the Report on the state of nature for 2019, 1188 are endangered. Globally, there are estimators 1 million at riskwith biodiversity is declining at a faster rate than at any time in human history.
We cannot ignore the loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity is the variation that exists among all living organisms, between different species, within species, including genetic makeup, and within wider ecosystems. Billions of people depend on wildlife for food, clean water, energy, income, health and well-being. Annual harvest in the amount of up to 480 billion pounds are pollinated by various wild animals and estimated 4 billion people depend on natural medicines for their health protection. These vital ecosystem services rely on a healthy environment, and that requires biodiversity. Biodiversity loss makes species and ecosystems less resilient to challenges such as invasive species or pests, meaning an increased risk of wiping out entire populations and destabilizing the entire ecological web. Nature is a finite resource and only human self-interest should dictate that biodiversity should be protected.
Along with overexploitation, humans contribute to biodiversity loss by destroying, polluting and fragmenting habitats around the world. Many of Britain’s important peatlands, home to rare species such as the harrier, have been drained for agricultural use. The Amazon rainforest is being cleared to such an extent that it may be close to a tipping point beyond which it cannot recover.
The climate crisis exacerbates the problem. Many species simply cannot adapt to the scale and speed of temperature change. For example, sea warming and ocean acidification are destroying coral reefs around the world. this year, The Great Barrier Reef has suffered its sixth mass bleaching since 1998, more than 90% of reefs have suffered. In many cases, when an ecosystem loses biodiversity, it becomes less able to store carbon, contributing to further climate change. We have a vicious circle: climate change leads to biodiversity loss, which in turn leads to further climate change. As governments around the world develop plans to reduce carbon emissions and conserve biodiversity, the message is simple: we must tackle both challenges together.
What can be done? Just as science diagnoses a problem, it can provide solutions. Using hard evidence like this IPBES report, governments can develop effective policies. Integrated and collaborative planning can provide sustainable solutions that tackle climate change and biodiversity loss at the same timeprotecting and enriching human lives.
In southern India, scientists, indigenous communities and local governments have been working together on this protect and restore mangrove forests. The trees’ large root systems provide protection against rising sea levels, provide habitat for fish and crustaceans, and clean the surrounding water. Trees also draw and store carbon from the atmosphere and contribute to the deposition of carbon-rich sediments. The increase in wildlife has contributed to small-scale fishing and tourism. Such innovative and effective conservation initiatives can be implemented in diverse landscapes across the planet.
There are also simple everyday things we can do to benefit our environment; for example, reducing food waste. Currently about 30% of all food produced in the world remains uneatenmeaning that a significant proportion of the resources and, importantly, the land used for growing, processing, packaging and transport are wasted and are less able to support biodiversity.
Political will and leadership are needed, and on the 15th UN Conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity in December, CBD COP15provides the next important opportunity for governments to commit to real, ambitious change.
CBD COP15 could be a landmark event and be as important for biodiversity as the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions proves. It will determine the direction of international activity for the next decade and beyond. Governments must agree to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and develop actionable, evidence-based plans to do so. An important challenge is to define a reliable and simple integrated indicator, similar to how carbon dioxide emissions have been used for climate purposes. At the end of June, the negotiators met in Nairobi for their last attempt at an agreement The post-2020 global biodiversity frameworkand while progress was made, it did not go far enough.
The goals of the last decade were not achieved; next decade should be. Robust delivery plans will be needed, and we need a robust mechanism for monitoring progress and accountability. CBD COP15 the time has come to finalize the framework and countries must come to the table ready to accept and support ambitious commitments. This is our chance to make long-term agreements to protect our planet.
This piece was originally published in Guardian July 8, 2022