International Day of Biodiversity, is on 22 May, and it's not only a good reason to celebrate nature, it is also a reminder that we are not the only form of life on this planet.
We might think of ourselves as an intelligent species but our self-destructive behaviour, at least as far as nature's delicate infrastructure is concerned, shows little evidence that this is true. The well-documented fact is that we are at risk of destroying this precious planet for future generations, or at least saddling them with an enormous financial and environmental legacy of having to fix the problems we couldn't.
This callous disregard is directly linked to growth. During the 20th century, the human population grew by four times and economic output by 40 times. We increased our fossil fuel use by 16 times, our fishing catches by 35 and our water use by 9. At the same time – and it is no coincidence – we have been living through an alarming global decline in species and natural habitats at up to 1,000 times the natural rate. In the EU alone, up to one quarter of animal species is threatened with extinction and 88% of our fish stocks are over-exploited. Most of our ecosystem services are 'degraded' – ie no longer able to deliver those basic and largely unknown, yet vital services such as crop pollination, clean air and water, and control of floods or erosion.
By 2050 the global population will have risen to 9 billion people. It doesn't take a genius to work out that we are on the very slippery slope towards ecological disaster.
Protecting nature is both a moral and ethical issue. It goes without saying that we must preserve the planet's natural wonders for its own sake and for future generations, but if that is not a convincing enough argument for some people than the economic argument should be. It is in our own interest to conserve and restore them – otherwise we are just biting the hand that feeds us. And if we don't make those smart investments now to protect biodiversity and the healthy ecosystems around us, then we face even heavier bills later trying to restore what has been lost.
This is not blind faith in nature. There is documented, solid economic thinking behind it. The Economy of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study estimates that business opportunities from investments in nature could be worth US$2-6tr by 2050, and recommends factoring the true economic value of biodiversity into decision-making and reflecting it in systems of national accounts.
The study contains some startling figures. Here a few examples: the total economic value of insect pollination is estimated at US$153bn per year, representing nearly 10% of world agricultural output for human food. The annual loss of opportunity due to over-exploitation of global fisheries is estimated at US$50bn. The city of New York saved US$6.5bn by investing in maintaining natural water purification services in the Catskills watershed rather than opting for a filtration plant.
So what can we do about it? World environment ministers agreed last year in Nagoya on a global strategy to combat biodiversity loss. This was a success in itself, but the challenge now is to follow through and implement those targets. It is a challenge that needs to be taken up in the widest possible way. It has to be on the agenda of not just environment ministers but also of the ministers dealing with agriculture, fisheries, industry, transport, research, trade ... Halting biodiversity loss needs to be discussed in parliaments, boardrooms and in living rooms. I will be doing my bit within the EU to try to make sure this happens at political level. I hope many others will join me.
There is a well-known Cree Indian Prophecy that says: "Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
I would not like to belong to the generation that proves the wisdom of the Cree Indians.
• Janez Potočnik is european commissioner for environment
English Free Article | Environment |
Sustainable Tourism the theme for World Biodiversity Day 2017
It’s time to make soil great again #Biodiversity
The 22nd of May this year is the World Biodiversity Day – a United Nations mandated celebration. Every year bears a theme and this year the theme is Sustainable Tourism. The United Nations General Assembly has recognized 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, and the theme is meant to coincide with this.
The UN recognizes the impact of biodiversity on tourism, and consequently tourism’s impact on economies. Tourism, the UN says, provides a good argument for the political and economic case for conserving biodiversity. However, the UN’s case for choosing tourism is also linked to a few of its institutional initiatives such as its Aichi Biodiversity Targets, that are strategic goals such as mainstreaming biodiversity awareness, promote sustainability, fostering ecological conservation, enhancing the benefits of ecosystem services and facilitate policy towards biodiversity.
The theme also relates to its Sustainable Tourism Programme built around its programs on sustainable consumption and production. The UN also wants to place an emphasis on raising awareness of the guidelines of its Convention on Biological Diversity.
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The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) receives much importance in the UN as it is an international legally binding treaty with the purpose of protecting biodiversity. The treaty is governed over by the Conference of the Parties, a body that includes governments or parties that have agreed to the treaty.
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Biodiversity the world over is severely threatened. The chief architects to this are habitat-destruction, over-harvesting, pollution and human intervention in the alteration of ecosystems. 22 per cent of animal life is in danger of going extinct, while 8 per cent have already gone extinct. There is also a uniformity in the manner in which humans consume natural products. According to the UN, 60 per cent of agricultural intake come from just three crops – rice, wheat and maize. Also, ten marine species contribute to about 30 per cent of intake in fisheries. Furthermore, the contribution of microbes and invertebrates to ecosystems has not been fully mapped.
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