Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Biodiversity Is Our Life

I quote at length from the editorial by Julia Marton-Lefèvre, the director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in Science magazine of 5 March 2010.
2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, in recognition of life on Earth. Eight years ago, more than 190 countries agreed, through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010. This October, the Convention will meet in Nagoya, Japan, to evaluate progress and agree on new biodiversity targets for the world. Shortly before that, the UN General Assembly will address the biodiversity crisis for the first time.

It is clear from many indices of biodiversity that the world has failed to meet the 2010 target. For example, in its Red List of Threatened Species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature documents the extinction risk of 47,677 species: 17,291 are threatened, including 12% of birds, 21% of mammals, 30% of amphibians, 27% of reef-building corals, and 35% of conifers and cycads. Tracking extinction risk over time through this index reveals even worse news, with dramatic declines in many groups, notably amphibians and corals. The Living Planet Index reveals that populations of wild species have declined by 30% since 1970; mangrove forests have lost a fifth of their area since 1980, and 29% of seagrass beds are gone.

This biodiversity loss has grim consequences for humanity. According to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study in 2009, half the welfare of the world's 1.1 billion poorest people flows directly from nature, through benefits including wild harvest, crop pollination, disaster mitigation, clean water provision, and maintenance of traditional cultures. The study estimates the total global annual economic cost of biodiversity loss, where it can be measured, to be between 1.35 and 3.1 trillion U.S. dollars. In addition, destruction of tropical forests (shrinking by 6 million hectares each year) is responsible for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, driving climate change. Biodiversity loss deprives our descendants of currently unknown but potentially vast benefits. And in the sense that it cuts off humanity from the wonders of nature, the loss ultimately makes us less human.
UNESCO will be observing the International Year of Biodiversity, and its program titled People, Biodiversity and Ecology seeks to create an international network for the study of the natural sciences underlying biodiversity and how people can live in such a way as to conserve biodiversity.

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