Re­ports em­pha­size ur­gent need to re­verse bio­di­ver­sity de­cline

Sherbrooke Record - - EDITORIAL - By David Suzuki

Our health, well-be­ing, food se­cu­rity, en­ergy and eco­nomic progress de­pend on healthy, di­verse na­ture. Clean water and air are es­sen­tial to hu­man life and health. Nu­tri­ent-rich soils are nec­es­sary to grow food. Di­ver­sity makes the ecosys­tems on which hu­man life de­pends re­silient.

But, as more than 550 ex­perts from over 100 coun­tries re­cently warned, “Bio­di­ver­sity — the es­sen­tial va­ri­ety of life forms on Earth — con­tin­ues to de­cline in ev­ery re­gion of the world, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duc­ing na­ture’s ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to peo­ple’s well-be­ing.”

On March 22 in Medel­lín, Colom­bia, the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Sci­ence-pol­icy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices’ 129 mem­ber states ap­proved the ex­perts’ four ex­ten­sively peer-re­viewed re­gional re­ports. Re­searchers ex­am­ined more than 10,000 stud­ies over three years to as­sess the state of bio­di­ver­sity and to de­ter­mine the causes and solutions for de­clines in Africa, the Amer­i­cas, Asia-pa­cific, and Europe and Cen­tral Asia.

IPBES chair Sir Robert Wat­son said, “The best avail­able ev­i­dence, gath­ered by the world’s lead­ing ex­perts, points us now to a sin­gle con­clu­sion: we must act to halt and re­verse the un­sus­tain­able use of na­ture — or risk not only the fu­ture we want, but even the lives we cur­rently lead. For­tu­nately, the ev­i­dence also shows that we know how to pro­tect and par­tially re­store our vi­tal nat­u­ral as­sets.”

The re­ports con­clude that “bio­di­ver­sity and na­ture’s ca­pac­ity to con­trib­ute to peo­ple are be­ing de­graded, re­duced and lost due to a num­ber of com­mon pres­sures — habi­tat stress; over­ex­ploita­tion and un­sus­tain­able use of nat­u­ral re­sources; air, land and water pol­lu­tion; in­creas­ing numbers and im­pact of in­va­sive alien species and cli­mate change, among oth­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don’s Tim New­bold, lead re­searcher for a 2016 study the re­ports ref­er­ence, “For 58.1% of the world’s land sur­face, which is home to 71.4% of the global pop­u­la­tion, the level of bio­di­ver­sity loss is sub­stan­tial enough to ques­tion the abil­ity of ecosys­tems to sup­port hu­man so­ci­eties.”

Bio­di­ver­sity of plants, an­i­mals, fungi and other or­gan­isms is im­por­tant. Each species plays a unique ecosys­tem role. Di­verse na­ture of­fers nu­mer­ous ecosys­tem ser­vices, in­clud­ing en­sur­ing we have ac­cess to a va­ri­ety of foods and medicines. It also cre­ates re­silience — a va­ri­ety of species en­sures that some will con­tinue to func­tion if oth­ers fail.

In the Amer­i­cas, species pop­u­la­tions are on aver­age 31 per cent lower than when Euro­pean set­tle­ment be­gan. With in­creas­ing cli­mate change im­pacts, that’s ex­pected to rise to at least 40 per cent by 2050. The re­port notes that Indige­nous Peo­ples and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties have slowed or re­versed de­clines in some ar­eas through “a di­ver­sity of poly­cul­ture and agro­forestry sys­tems,” but warns that Indige­nous lo­cal knowl­edge and lan­guages, and the cul­tures as­so­ci­ated them, are also threat­ened or dy­ing.

The eco­nomic con­se­quences alone are stag­ger­ing. Re­searchers es­ti­mate that land-based nat­u­ral sys­tems con­trib­ute ser­vices worth about $24.3 tril­lion a year to peo­ple in the Amer­i­cas — equiv­a­lent to the re­gion’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct — and about $3.6 tril­lion in Canada. As one ex­am­ple of the costs of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems, the re­port shows the “an­nual cost of man­ag­ing the im­pacts of in­va­sive alien ze­bra mus­sels on in­fra­struc­ture for power, water sup­ply and trans­porta­tion in the Great Lakes” is more than $500 mil­lion.

Although many solutions lie in gov­ern­ment pol­icy, in­di­vid­u­als can also help. Wat­son told Na­tional Geo­graphic that eat­ing less meat, wast­ing less food, us­ing water more ef­fi­ciently, re­duc­ing toxic chem­i­cal use and shift­ing from fos­sil fu­els are all nec­es­sary. He also said Indige­nous and lo­cal knowl­edge are in­valu­able to help­ing us learn how to live bet­ter with na­ture, and that cross­bor­der col­lab­o­ra­tion is es­sen­tial be­cause na­ture doesn’t rec­og­nize hu­man bound­aries.

Emma Archer, co-chair of the African as­sess­ment, said cit­i­zen en­gage­ment is also needed: “As ci­ti­zens, we need to vote and lobby for po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and poli­cies that sup­port th­ese choices.”

As a Des­mog Blog ar­ti­cle points out, “Many of the solutions for stem­ming the loss of species would have si­mul­ta­ne­ous ben­e­fits for the cli­mate, such as pro­tect­ing and restor­ing ecosys­tems (which can store more car­bon), clean­ing up en­ergy sources (fewer green­house gas emis­sions), and prac­tic­ing more sus­tain­able and di­verse agri­cul­ture (low­er­ing emis­sions, stor­ing car­bon).”

As with cli­mate change, we have am­ple ev­i­dence that we’re fac­ing a bio­di­ver­sity cri­sis, we know what’s caus­ing it and we have nu­mer­ous solutions. It’s time to act.

David Suzuki is a sci­en­tist, broad­caster, au­thor and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion. Writ­ten with con­tri­bu­tions from David Suzuki Foun­da­tion Se­nior Ed­i­tor Ian Han­ing­ton.

Learn more at www.david­suzuki.org.

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