A Tipping Point on Species Loss?

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 13, 2010 (IPS)

Humanity is destroying the network of living things that comprise our life support system. While this sawing-through-the-branch-we’re-perched-on is largely unintentional, world leaders can’t say they didn’t know what’s going on: 123 countries promised to take urgent action in 2003 but have done little to stem the rising tide of extinctions in what’s known as the extinction or biodiversity crisis.

Species are going extinct at 1,000 times their natural pace due to human activity, recent science has documented, with 35 to 40 species vanishing each day, never to be seen again.

“The question of preserving biological diversity is on the same scale as climate protection,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech in Berlin Monday at the official launch of the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity.

This week’s official launch will be followed by the first major event of the International Year, a high-profile meeting at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Jan. 20-21.

“We need a sea change. Here, now, immediately – not some time in the future,” Merkel said.

While climate has been the focus in 2009, this year will be a global celebration of and action on biodiversity, Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), told IPS from Berlin.

The action part comes in October when 193 countries that have now signed to the Convention on Biological Diversity set targets for reduction in biodiversity loss and strategies for how that will be accomplished, Djoghlaf noted. The hope is to have a binding agreement on targets to curb biodiversity loss over the next 10 years at the Convention of the Parties (COP) in Nagoya, Japan.

Prior to that, the CBD will release its Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 in May, an assessment of the current state of biodiversity and future prospects. Hint: the draft report reads like a dystopian novel if countries stick with “business as usual”.

Few people are aware that protecting biodiversity is not just about saving cute animals and pretty birds. Protecting biodiversity means protecting ecosystems that provide humanity with food, fibre, clean water and air. In the past few hundred years, human beings have greatly disrupted those natural processes through deforestation, overfishing, and more recently through pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases.

Correcting this accidental and destructive geoengineering of the planet will not be easy. Some experts now believe that at least half of the land and oceans needs to be fully protected.

“That is what the science says; this is what many aboriginal people say,” Harvey Locke, the WILD Foundation’s vice president of conservation strategy, told IPS late last year. WILD Foundation is an international, non-governmental non-profit based in the United States.

“It’s time to speak the simple truth. The whole thing unravels without protecting at least half of the planet,” Locke said.

In the WILD proposal – which has not yet been put before the CBD – humans would not be excluded from the protected 50 percent. However, development and activities like industrial fishing, mining, agriculture, plantation forestry and so on will need to be banned so that nature can restore itself, cool the planet and provide the vital services we need.

“It is urgent to take immediate action to preserve biodiversity. Nearly half of the world’s forests and around one-third of its species have been lost in the past three decades,” says Isaac Rojas, coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Programme at Friends of the Earth International.

Based in San Jose, Costa Rica, Rojas warns that booming monoculture tree plantations in the southern hemisphere are a major threat to biodiversity. “Plantations are not forests, they are just the same as deserts, only green,” he told IPS.

Indonesia and Malaysia offer prime examples. Those countries have some of the world’s highest deforestation rates and are largely driven by the conversion of forests into vast palm oil plantations to meet the lucrative and fast-growing biodiesel market, according to a United Nation’s Environment Programme study last October.

The current economic system, which pushes privatisation, exports and trade liberalisation, is accelerating the decline in biodiversity Rojas says.

Pavan Sukhdev, one of the world’s leading economists, agrees. “We cannot continue our stewardship of this planet if we keep looking at public benefits and public wealth as somehow subordinate to private wealth,” Sukhdev said in an interview late last year in Merida, Mexico.

Protecting and investing in the “infrastructure of nature” makes perfect business sense, just as protecting and investing in built infrastructure does, says economist Pavan Sukhdev, who heads up the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative backed by the U.N. and number of countries.

However, exactly the reverse is happening. Nature’s infrastructure is being destroyed by human activities, representing a stunning estimated loss of 2.5 to 4.5 trillion dollars a year for each of the last 25 years, said Sukhdev, who is on leave from Deutsche Bank, one of the largest global financial institutions.

“2010 will be a unique opportunity to showcase nature and its ability to deal with climate change,” says Jane Smart, director of the biodiversity conservation group at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Forests, marine grasses, mangroves, wetlands, peatlands can all absorb carbon and play a vital role in climate protection, Smart told IPS. “A big vision is needed. Why not have a green economy based around nature-based solutions?”

“It will be a really exciting year,” concludes Djoghlaf.

via BIODIVERSITY: A Tipping Point on Species Loss?

2 thoughts on “A Tipping Point on Species Loss?

  1. Report from Ottawa: It’s not being dealt with. It’s not going to be dealt with. The tipping point is not some future conjunction of facts in a limited concept of environmental science. It was a sociological event that we passed decades ago.

  2. I find it interesting that our own species is likely to be the most extreme extinction event in this planet’s history. It’s very disconcerting that the overwhelming majority of people not only don’t know about this, but generally don’t care and aren’t concerned.

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