The Importance of Biodiversity

The biodiversity crisis – i.e. the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems – is probably a greater threat than global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of mankind on Earth. There is a need for scientists, politicians and government authorities to closely collaborate if we are to solve this crisis. This makes the need to establish IPBES very urgent, which may happen at a UN meeting in Panama City in April

- professor Carsten Rahbek, Director for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen

 The world is losing species at a rate that is 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature updated its study on the state of biodiversity on Earth, saying 20,219 species were at risk of dying. A quarter of the world’s mammals, 13 percent of birds, 41 percent of amphibians and 33 percent of reef-building corals are at risk of extinction, according to the IUCN.


What does nature do for us?

  • Peat bogs filter and purify water for us
  • Coral reefs become storm-buffering breakwaters
  • Mangroves form sea walls that protect shorelines and communities from natural disasters
  • Braided floodplains work as dikes and levees and increase crop productivity
  • Riparian trees form ‘cooling towers’ for overheated currents
  • Healthy wetlands treat industrial effluent
  • Restored forested slopes trap sediment
  • Well-managed estuaries boost food security, jobs and incomes for millions

Nature does all this for us and much, much more. If properly nurtured and maintained, it does so largely for free. All our ancestors before us intuitively knew the value of being stewards of the land, sea and sky but sadly, the further we have strayed from the land, the more alienated we have become.

Alienated and Disconnect

When you run out of water, when you run out of arable land… and your rivers run dry, when your lakes silt up, when your fisheries collapse, then it is often too late to start talking about the value of biodiversity ecosystems.

- Achim Steiner, UN Environment Programme Executive Director

 Living in cities and surrounded by man-made objects, it’s easy to forget that humans are an integral part of nature. Our modern industrial manufacturing complex has radically disconnected us from nature.  Manufacturing acts as a buffer churning out forms that are not natural and shielding us from the raw material that has gone into it. We have transformed nature to suit our needs, making squarish built environment out of trees and earth and processing dead animals and plants into everything from fuel to shoes to neatly packaged and processed supermarket food. We spend most of our time in man-made environments and interacting with manmade technologies such as phones, computers, cars and television. We still long for nature but our exposure to it is perhaps 2 weeks out of the year during holidays.

We no longer have an intimate connection with the land, the sea and living beings of the planet. We have lost touch with our environment. Is it any wonder that the environment, including biodiversity is facing such severe problems today? It comes as no surprise, then that our economic system brings great harm and destruction to our own life-support system. We have ignored our ecosystem at our own peril and only now, when our ecosystem is under crisis are we reminded that our environment is our most important life-support system. It’s time to re-establish these connections. It is time we assign the due economic value onto our life support system so that we may value it and protect it.

Biodiversity Protection

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is a UN organization that will play for biodiversity the same role the IPCC plays for climate change. It will act as a liason between the scientific community and policy makers that aims to build capacity for and strengthen the use of science in policy making surrounding biodiversity.

Founded in 1948, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization.

It is a leading authority on the environment and sustainable development and is the world’s largest professional global conservation network.

  • More than 1,200 member organizations including 200+ government and 900+ non-government organizations
  • Almost 11,000 voluntary scientists and experts, grouped in six Commissions in some 160 countries
  • IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 45 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. The Union’s headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.
  • A neutral forum for governments, NGOs, scientists, business and local communities to find pragmatic solutions to conservation and development challenges
  • Thousands of field projects and activities around the world
  • Governance by a Council elected by member organizations every four years at the IUCN World Conservation Congress
  • Funded by governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, foundations, member organizations and corporations
  • Official Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly

The IUCN is noted for producing it’s annual Red List publicly accessible database of endangered species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species.

Figure 1: IUCN Red List Infographic 2011

The IUCN is also noted for their Save Our Species initiative. Save Our Species, is a global coalition initiated by the 3 founding partners IUCN, GEF and World Bank to build the biggest species conservation fund, supporting on-the-ground field conservation projects all over the world. SOS combines resources and funding experience from the World Bank and GEF (Global Environment Facility), the authoritative science of IUCN and the resources and ingenuity of the private sector to create a mechanism that ensures sufficient funding goes to species conservation projects where and when it will have the most impact.


Figure 2: IUCN Save Our Species Map

One of the key agreements adopted at Rio 1992 was the Convention on Biological Diversity. Agreed upon by 160 countries, this convention establishes three main goals:

  1. the conservation of biological diversity
  2. the sustainable use of its components
  3. the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources

Biological diversity is the resource upon which current and future generations depend. It is the link between organisms, binding each into an interdependent community or ecosystem in which all living creatures have their place and role. It is the very web of life.

Despite its importance, our heedless actions are eroding this resource at a perilous rate. The world is impoverished, even threatened, by this loss. Every gene, species and ecosystem lost erodes the planet’s ability to cope with change. For the poorest in the world this flexibility is a matter of life and death. For all of humankind it diminishes the quality of life.

A major cause of this erosion is that individuals, communities and nations take the resource for granted. There is an assumption, based on thousands of years of development, that living resources and biological diversity are limitless. Despite isolated instances of where communities, even civilizations, have ignored this responsibility and suffered dramatically as a result, for most of us the idea that we might be reaching the limits of its endurance is beyond our experience and comprehension. An important step to address our overuse of the biosphere lies in educating people. An education that empowers and enables people to seek collective ways to overcome current destructive trends is critical component of any successful strategy for achieving a sustainable future. – CBD

The Aichi Convention Goals

Among  the most important work of the Convention on Biologicial Diversity is the Aichi Convention, a detailed agreement for preserving global biodiversity broken down into 20 goals.

Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society 
Target 1
By 2020, at the latest, people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
Target 2
By 2020, at the latest, biodiversity values have been integrated into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies and planning processes and are being incorporated into national accounting, as appropriate, and reporting systems.
Target 3
By 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.
Target 4
By 2020, at the latest, Governments, business and stakeholders at all levels have taken steps to achieve or have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have kept the impacts of use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits.
Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use 
Target 5
By 2020, the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, is at least halved and where feasible brought close to zero, and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.
Target 6
By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.
Target 7
By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.
Target 8
By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.
Target 9
By 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritized, priority species are controlled or eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.
Target 10
By 2015, the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimized, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity 
Target 11
By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.
Target 12
By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.
Target 13
By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity.
Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services 
Target 14
By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.
Target 15
By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.
Target 16
By 2015, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is in force and operational, consistent with national legislation.
Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building 
Target 17
By 2015 each Party has developed, adopted as a policy instrument, and has commenced implementing an effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan.
Target 18
By 2020, the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources, are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations, and fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities, at all relevant levels.
Target 19
By 2020, knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.
Target 20
By 2020, at the latest, the mobilization of financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 from all sources, and in accordance with the consolidated and agreed process in the Strategy for Resource Mobilization, should increase substantially from the current levels. This target will be subject to changes contingent to resource needs assessments to be developed and reported by Parties.

(Source: CBD)

During the 2012 Hyperbad meeting on Biodiversity, environmental economist Pavan Sukhdev said that an expert panel had concluded that between $150-440 billion (115 to 330 billion euros) would be needed annually to meet the Japan goals, dubbed the Aichi biodiversity targets. Current conservation spending is estimated at about $10 billion per year.

In October 2010, the parties of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity conference set stringent new protection targets to be reached by 2020:

  • 17% of terrestrial and inland water
  • 10% of coastal and marine areas

But many questions need to be answered:

  1. are protected areas really protected?
  2. are they in the right place?
  3. where should new protected areas be located?

The Digital Observatory for Protected Areas (DOPA) is a new tool to set up to provide these answers. DOPA is envisioned as a site to collect and present the enormous amount of available data necessary to measure and consolidate ecological indicators relating to biodviersity. It has been created as a component of the GEO-BON observation network by:

  • the European Joint Research Centre (lead organization)
  • the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)
  • the UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC)
  • Birdlife International
  • the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

DOPA is conceived as a set of distributed databases combined with open, interoperable web services to provide a large variety of end-users including park managers, decision-makers and researchers with means to assess, monitor and forecast the state and pressure of protected areas at the global scale. DOPA will also contribute to the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), the biodiversity arm of the Global Earth Observation System of System of Systems (GEOSS).

While DOPA is a tool for policymakers, The Little Biodiversity Finance Book from the Global Canopy Programme is an economic investment tool, a book that grew out of the October 20th 2010 at the UN biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, where leaders met to discuss new and innovative ways to finance biodiversity and ecosystems. The 2012 third edition of the Little Biodiversity Finance Book is the revised guide to proactive investment in natural capital (PINC) and an introduction to financing options for biodiversity and ecosystems services. The aim of the book is to help stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, the private sector, indigenous peoples and local communities to compare existing and future options for biodiversity and ecosystem finance in a clear and consistent way.

Mankind has removed more than half of the planet’s original forest cover. All the time this land stays barren and unrestored, the lives of millions of people and the survival of entire communities, cultures and ecosystems, remain under threat.

We can restore many of these landscapes. A restored landscape can accommodate a mosaic of different land uses. Forest and landscape restoration turns barren or degraded areas of land into healthy, fertile, working landscapes that can meet the needs of people and the natural environment.

In 2011, an international assembly of high-level representatives from governments, businesses and conservation groups set a target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded lands by 2020. This agreement is called the Bonn Challenge.

Reaching the target will demand the success of dozens, possibly hundreds of landscape restoration projects around the world.

It’s going to take the biggest restoration initiative the world has ever seen. And it will take pledges of support from millions of people, businesses and organisations to put pressure on governments to make it happen. Go to Plant a Pledge and make it happen.