Sound­ing the alarm over the loss of bio­di­ver­sity

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - ROBERT WAT­SON

With the United Na­tions’ cli­mate change con­fer­ence un­der­way in Bonn, Ger­many, ris­ing global tem­per­a­tures are once again at the top of the world’s agenda. But why care about the in­crease in tem­per­a­ture, if not be­cause of its im­pact on life on Earth, in­clud­ing hu­man life?

That is an im­por­tant ques­tion to con­sider, in view of the rel­a­tive lack of at­ten­tion de­voted to a closely re­lated and equally im­por­tant threat to hu­man sur­vival: the star­tling pace of global bio­di­ver­sity loss.

The avail­abil­ity of food, wa­ter, and en­ergy – fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks of ev­ery coun­try’s se­cu­rity – de­pends on healthy, ro­bust and di­verse ecosys­tems, and on the life that in­hab­its them. But, as a re­sult of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties, plan­e­tary bio­di­ver­sity is now de­clin­ing faster than at any point in his­tory. Many pol­i­cy­mak­ers, how­ever, have yet to rec­og­nize that bio­di­ver­sity loss is just as se­ri­ous a threat as ris­ing sea lev­els and in­creas­ingly fre­quent ex­treme weather events.

This lack of suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion comes de­spite in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ments to pro­tect bio­di­ver­sity. In Oc­to­ber 2010, global lead­ers met in Aichi, Ja­pan, where they pro­duced the Strate­gic Plan for Bio­di­ver­sity 2011-2020, which in­cluded 20 am­bi­tious tar­gets – such as halv­ing global habi­tat loss and end­ing over­fish­ing – that sig­na­to­ries agreed to meet by 2020. Safe­guard­ing bio­di­ver­sity is also specif­i­cally in­cluded in the U.N.’s Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals. Yet progress to­ward these global bio­di­ver­sity goals is likely to fall dan­ger­ously short of what is needed to en­sure an ac­cept­able fu­ture for all.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers have largely agreed on the im­por­tance of hold­ing the in­crease in global tem­per­a­ture to less than 2 C above prein­dus­trial lev­els – the goal of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. But too few lead­ers have shown any sense of ur­gency about stem­ming bio­di­ver­sity losses. The sus­tain­able fu­ture we want de­pends on end­ing this in­dif­fer­ence.

To­ward that end, the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Sci­ence Pol­icy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices (IPBES), which I chair, will re­lease a se­ries of land­mark re­ports next March on the im­pli­ca­tions of bio­di­ver­sity de­cline. Pre­pared over three years by more than 550 ex­perts from some 100 coun­tries, these ex­pert as­sess­ments will cover four world re­gions: the Amer­i­cas, Asia and the Pa­cific, Africa, and Europe and Cen­tral Asia. A fifth re­port will ad­dress the state of land degra­da­tion and restora­tion at re­gional and global lev­els. The re­ports will high­light trends and plau­si­ble fu­tures, out­lin­ing the best pol­icy op­tions avail­able to slow the degra­da­tion of ecosys­tems, from coral reefs to rain­forests. Taken to­gether, the IPBES as­sess­ments will rep­re­sent the global sci­en­tific com­mu­nity’s con­sen­sus view on the state of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices. More­over, the re­ports will high­light the close links be­tween bio­di­ver­sity loss and cli­mate change, which should be ad­dressed si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The world will not be able to meet the goals of the Paris Agree­ment – or many of the SDGs, for that mat­ter – un­less it takes into ac­count the state of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices.

Today, most govern­ments sep­a­rate their en­vi­ron­men­tal au­thor­i­ties from those fo­cus­ing on en­ergy, agri­cul­ture and planning. This makes it dif­fi­cult to ad­dress cli­mate change or bio­di­ver­sity losses in a holis­tic way. New types of in­no­va­tive gover­nance struc­tures are needed to bridge these pol­icy si­los.

Af­ter the re­lease of IPBES re­gional re­ports next year, a global as­sess­ment build­ing on them will be pub­lished in 2019. This will be the first global over­view of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices since the au­thor­i­ta­tive Mil­len­nium Ecosys­tem As­sess­ment of 2005. It will ex­am­ine the health of ter­res­trial, fresh­wa­ter and marine ecosys­tems, and the im­pact of

We must rec­og­nize that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is do­ing more than just adding a few de­grees of tem­per­a­ture

fac­tors in­clud­ing acid­i­fi­ca­tion, ris­ing sea sur­face tem­per­a­tures, trade, in­va­sive species, over­fish­ing, pol­lu­tion and land use changes. The suc­cess of ef­forts to re­v­erse un­sus­tain­able uses of the world’s nat­u­ral as­sets will re­quire pol­i­cy­mak­ers to re­con­sider the value of bio­di­ver­sity for their peo­ple, en­vi­ron­ments and economies. But the first step is en­sur­ing that we have the best peer-re­viewed knowl­edge avail­able to make sound de­ci­sions; the forth­com­ing IPBES as­sess­ments will move us in that di­rec­tion.

If the full con­se­quences of cli­mate change are to be ad­dressed in our life­time, we must rec­og­nize that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is do­ing more than just adding a few de­grees of tem­per­a­ture to the an­nual fore­cast. By early next year, we will have the data on bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices to prove it, and the pol­icy op­tions to change course.

Robert Wat­son, strate­gic di­rec­tor of the Tyn­dall Cen­ter for Cli­mate Change Re­search at the Univer­sity of East Anglia, is chair of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Sci­ence-Pol­icy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices. THE DAILY STAR pub­lishes this commentary in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Project Syn­di­cate © (www.project-syn­di­cate.org).

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