Governments Responsible for Species Decline – New Panel Learns from IPCC Experience

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 6, 2011 (Tierramérica)

After five years of preparation the international community is expected to launch the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services this year. For some of its proponents, even the decisions of the World Trade Organisation should be subject to its analysis.

IPBES would be analogous to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but focused on biological diversity.

The idea behind this effort is that decisions by all levels of government are largely responsible for the decline in species and ecosystems that support life on the Earth.

To put an end to species decline, governments need an independent, authoritative scientific body that can assess the impacts of proposed policies and decisions that biodiversity experts have long recommended.

“People generally have yet to appreciate the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how much is at stake in biodiversity loss,” Charles Perrings, professor of environmental economics at Arizona State University in the U.S. southwest, told Tierramérica.

“Biodiversity” is the term used to describe the wide variety of living things that comprise the planet’s biological infrastructure and provide us with health, wealth, food, water, fuel and other vital services.  Continue reading

Be a Partner in Independent Enviro Journalism

More than 20,000 people from 190 nations attended the international climate meeting in Cancun, Mexico and it received one ten second clip on US network TV 

Coverage of environment and science has been gutted. If there is coverage it rarely digs below the surface. It’s not just TV, it’s all media. After 18 years of being published in major publications on two continents, I now count myself lucky to get $150 to $200 for an in-depth article. The few independent media outlets are either non-profits or struggling.

Urgent environmental issues didn’t go away just because most media stopped covering them.

Many, many people tell me:we need people like you to write about these issues”.

I’d like to do more but it is impossible to continue without your support for what I call Community Supported Journalism. People directly support independent journalists who craft honest and thoughtful articles about important subjects the mainstream media ignores or gloss over.

Community Supported Environmental Journalism Works

In 2010 dozens of people offered their help, donating $5,750 which helped ensure many breaking international stories were covered including the first media reports on the global die-off of corals and how climate change may be bringing colder winters to Europe and eastern North America. Those donors — who are really partners — enabled me to cover important international meetings like the UN Convention on Biodiversity, UN climate change conference, scientific meetings and much more.

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Thanks for reading. — Stephen

Letters of Support:

We need people like you. In tough economic times, where information flow is increasingly channeled and controlled, you perform a simply critical role. Hang in there. You are an admirable role model for the future.”

– E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor, University of Guelph.

“Stephen Leahy has done a superb job exposing the enormous sums the US government is spending on corporate welfare for big oil.”

Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer-prize winning editor and author of The Heat is On

My continued appreciation to those who have contributed in the past.

A Reporter’s Diary: EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE OF UN CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY FROM NAGOYA, JAPAN

NOTE: The following are excerpts from my personal notes to friends and supporters written during the heat, confusion and massive information dump of a major international conference. Often written late at night I attempted to offer some personal perspective into what was going on and what I was up to. — Stephen

Tuesday, 19 Oct – Geopolitical obstacles getting in the way

I’m here at the big UN conference on biodiversity. It’s 430 am here, the first day ended about 9 pm. It’s 12-ring cat circus like the Copenhagen climate meeting but the mood here is more positive. There are similar geopolitical obstacles getting in the way of slowing the loss of species and ecosystems. Another major difference is the lack of little public awareness of the fact that we cannot continue to shred nature’s web of life without suffering dire consequences.

I’ll try and do my bit – write 10 -12 articles over next two weeks. I wanted to thank a couple of supporters who helped out to cover some of the travel costs. I want to keep you informed of what’s going on here but these notes take a couple of hours to do.

This week is a story about an important development in Africa: In sincere efforts to make one last major attempt to transform Africa’s poverty and hunger are we imposing our worldview on Africa yet again? Bill Gates and others are donating hundreds of millions to create a New Green Revolution for Africa. This difficult and controversial story took over a week to do and wrote the final draft during my 17 hr flight here.

My other story connects the dots between extreme weather this summer and climate change. No single storm is directly attributable to CC BUT without CC it is unlikely the Russian heat wave and floods in Pakistan would have occurred. (PS those were events were two sides of the same coin)

Finally I received a number of letters, mostly positive but a couple saying I was too negative in last week’s article ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ Canada Sees Global Warming “Prosperity” Instead of Calamity’. Any organization that puts out a chart of climate impacts at 4 – 5C of global warming and fails to mention the scale of the calamity that would result is delusional or deceptive. Some take the stunningly selfish and naive view we can ‘adapt’ by turning up the AC.

Do consider making a small automatic monthly contribution as a fair exchange for these articles.

Greenest wishes, Steve


Wednesday, 20 Oct – Diversity R Us

There is an astonishing diversity of people here. Last nite I talked to an Amazonian Indian who took 10 days to get here, had wine accidentally spilled on me by a reindeer herder from Finland and found the lost passport of a Brazilian diplomat. And that is a five minute snap shot. It is a very big world with so many different people it is incredible they have all come here to try and address a common issue. That they can’t agree on what kinds of actions and how to implement should not come as a surprise.

Sunday, 24 Oct – Canada won’t play nice (yet again)

Canada is blocking agreement on a key measure to get a new international agreement to protect biodiversity here. This is not new. In recent years Canada has gone out its way to snub international UN agreements including the outright refusal to fulfill its legal obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Hard to believe the same government lobbied hard for a seat on the UN security council and actually expected to be rewarded.

Sadly there is no one reporting for Canadian publications to document the irony. (And as a result Canadian’s aren’t really aware of what their government is up to.) Continue reading

Reefs and Forests Burn as Climate Disruption Takes Hold NOW


A lot of coral reefs have died this year due to unprecedented ocean heating largely due to climate change. I broke that story last summer. Few coral reefs will survive the next 50 years most experts say without immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 

 

 

 

Forests are next in line according a new study in PNAS. Huge uncontrollable wildfires will dominate forest landscapes of the near future without dramatic reductions in the burning of fossil fuels the study found.

I would have done a full article explaining all this but simply can’t find a publication willing to pay me to do the work. That’s why I am trying community supported journalism where readers donate small amounts so these articles get done and made available for millions to read.

— Stephen (November 10 2010)

An Awakening to the Unravelling of the Web Life – Will Action Follow?

Youth Demand Need a Voice.  Halting Biodiversity Decline Impossible Without Economic Transformation

Analysis by Stephen Leahy 

NAGOYA, Japan, Nov 1, 2010 (IPS)

The international community has finally awoken to the other great trans-boundary challenge of our time, with a new international agreement to halt the unravelling of the web of life that sustains humanity.

The new agreement by 193 nations that are part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity includes a commitment to reduce the rate of species loss by half by 2020, as well as the historic Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources.

This awakening only applies to the few early risers. The vast majority remain asleep, unaware of our utter dependence on the living things that are the one and only source of oxygen, water, food and fuel. And unaware that nature is our reality while the economy is simply a complicated game we created.

Japan imports more than 60 percent of its food and most of Europe’s ecosystems have been trashed, with only 17 percent in reasonable shape, according to a first-ever assessment. The only reason those countries haven’t collapsed is they are rich enough to help themselves to nature’s ecological resources and services like food, timber, materials from the rest of the world.

Put a glass lid over Japan, Germany or England and they wouldn’t last long.

“We exploited the biological resources abroad, especially in the South. This is why we, the people of Aichi, Nagoya, must apologise…for the deterioration of the ecosystems and biodiversity we have caused,” says a public appeal by civil society from Nagoya, the host city of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for the last two weeks of October.

The Japanese government wanted no part of this apology, says Kinhide Mushakoji, one of the organisers and a professor at the Osaka University of Economics and Law. The appeal was signed by 156 organisations in Japan.
Continue reading

Northern “Biopirates” Gobbling up Living Resources of the Global South

By Stephen Leahy

PARIS, Feb 1, 2010 (IPS)

Rich countries are like biopirates, looting far-away lands for food, raw materials and cheap labour. They’re plundering other richer ecosystems because they’ve largely destroyed their own. And they’re blocking global efforts to create an independent scientific assessment panel that is likely point the finger at the real reason species are going extinct at 1,000 times their natural pace, experts say.

European politicians were “shocked” to learn that just 17 percent of Europe’s ecosystems were in decent shape, Dominique Richard of the European Environmental Agency told participants on the final day of the U.N.-hosted Biodiversity Science Policy Conference in Paris.

“We’ve just completed our first complete assessment of the state of biodiversity in Europe and the results really shocked policymakers,” said Richard, a European biodiversity expert.

Most of Europe’s natural systems that provide essential services like food, clean air and water, climate regulation and so on have been in decline for years. But no one in Europe really notices.

That’s because the rich are “geosphere people” who help themselves to nature’s ecological services anywhere in the world, said Ashok Khosla, an eminent Indian environmentalist and founder of the Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group, who was representing the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Is this article of interest? It exists thanks to contributions from readers. Please click here to learn more about Community Supported Journalism.

The poor, on the other hand, are “ecosystem people” who depend directly on local resources for their livelihoods, Khosla told delegates. The ecosystem people cannot afford to get their food or water elsewhere, so if they degrade their own ecosystems, they suffer the direct consequences. Continue reading

Tackling Climate Change Only Way to Halt Species Extinction Crisis and Declines

An IPCC for Species Needed

By Stephen Leahy

NAGOYA, Japan, Oct 26, 2010 (IPS)

A major change in the direction of economic development is essential to avoid the catastrophic unraveling of Earth’s ecosystems that support all life, a new global analysis published in the journal Science revealed Tuesday.

Climate change, pollution, deforestation and other forms of land use change are pushing species into extinction, reducing their abundance and home ranges.

Human societies and infrastructures have evolved with and rely on particular sets of species and ecosystems and now these are being reshuffled,” said Paul Leadley of the University Paris-Sud in France who led the study.

“Even optimistic scenarios for this century consistently predict extinctions and shrinking populations of many species,” Leadley told IPS by telephone from France.

The goal of halting the loss of biodiversity by 2020 is under intense negotiation this week in Nagoya at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. However, based on five recent global environmental assessments, Leadley says that ending biodiversity loss by 2020 is sadly “unrealistic”.

Is this article of interest? It exists thanks to contributions from readers. Please click here to learn more about Community Supported Journalism.

Continue reading

Local Decisions To Protect Nature Boosts Economy, Quality of Life and Secure Jobs — Global Study

Multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem services can boost local economies and quality of life

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 10, 2010 (IPS)

What do New York City, Vienna, Quito and Rio de Janeiro have in common? They all get their high quality drinking water through aqueducts connected to protected areas in nearby hills and mountains.

Twenty years ago, a rapidly expanding New York City determined it was far cheaper to protect and restore the source of its water supply, the Catskill/Delaware forests and wetlands, than spend six to eight billion dollars on a water treatment plant.

Cities are dependent on nature. There are many examples of how the ecosystem services provided by nature can provide cost-effective solutions for local municipal services, according to a new major study titled “TEEB report for Local and Regional Policy Makers” released Thursday in India, Brazil, Belgium, Japan and South Africa.

Is this article of interest? It exists thanks to contributions from readers. Please click here to learn more about Community Supported Journalism.

However, the study notes that few politicians and public officials realise that factoring in the planet’s multi-trillion-dollar ecosystem services into their policy-making can help save cities and regional authorities’ money while boosting the local economy, enhancing quality of life, securing livelihoods and generating employment.

All economic activity and most of human well-being whether in an urban or non-urban setting is based on a healthy, functioning environment,” said Pavan Sukhdev, study leader of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme. Continue reading

Environmental Destruction Makes Money. Conservation Costs Money. This Global Dilemma Must Be Solved

Rich Countries Balk At Spending $ to Halt Biodiversity Crisis

By Stephen Leahy

NAIROBI, May 31, 2010 (IPS)

Developing countries rich in plants and animals but poor in financial and technical resources refused to make binding commitments to halt the unraveling of the planet’s biological infrastructure at the close of a major meeting Friday at the U.N.’s African headquarters in Nairobi.

For their part, rich countries balked at a 50-fold increase in funding to support efforts to slow and reverse the loss of species and ecosystems.

“Anything to do with finance has been a big problem here at this meeting,” said James Seyani, a delegate from Malawi and spokesperson for the African countries.

It takes money to protect, conserve and enhance biodiversity – the term for all living things that make up Earth’s ecosystems that are our life support system. Exploitation and destruction of vital ecosystems like forests and peatlands generates millions of dollars in revenue, but conserving or using these lands in ways that preserves biodiversity often costs governments money.

Do you find this article interesting? It is funded by contributions from readers. Please click here to learn more about Community Supported Journalism.

Reversing the declines in biodiversity is a matter of great urgency and countries with much of the world’s remaining species and intact ecosystems “are prepared to meet their commitments but we need the technical, human and financial resources to do this”, the delegate from Mexico said at the conclusion of the meeting that began May 10.

The absence of such resources is why biodiversity is in its current crisis, he said.

“The developing world needs to remember their previous commitments and provide new additional finances and resources. Those promises are not being adhered to,” Seyani told delegates late Friday afternoon at the end of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) meeting to establish targets and an action plan to end the biodiversity crisis over the next decade. Continue reading

Why the BP Oil Spill Really Happened

We Can Live Without Oil

“It was a disaster that was going to happen, but business and government simply pretended it was not going to happen.”

[Update: Why the BP spill cannot be cleaned up]

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2010 (Tierramérica)

The policies and deals that contributed to the massive oil spill under way in the Gulf of Mexico are also jeopardising the Earth’s vital biological infrastructure, according to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, published Monday.

The British Petroleum oil spill of 5,000 barrels a day in the Gulf of Mexico, which began Apr. 20 when an explosion caused a rupture at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, will have devastating consequences for marine life and coastal ecosystems for decades, experts say.

Similar business and policy decisions, multiplied thousands times over the last hundred years, have put the biological infrastructure that supports life in jeopardy, according to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) report, issued May 10 by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The report is the most current assessment of the state of the planet’s biodiversity, the living organisms that provide us with health, wealth, food, fuel and other vital services.

In this study, “you can clearly see the outlines of what could be the sixth great extinction event of all life on Earth,” said Thomas Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the Washington DC-based Heinz Centre for Science, Economics and the Environment, and chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank. Continue reading