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World fails to meet 2010 biodiversity target

Nearly a quarter of endangered plant species are threatened with extinction, natural habitats continue to vanish, and waterbodies to be degraded. The world has failed to meet its target of a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, says the third ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook’

 It’s grim news in the International Year of Biodiversity. Natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods across the planet are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse unless swift, radical and creative action is taken to conserve and sustainably use the variety of life on earth, concludes the third ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook’ produced by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

This major new assessment of the current state of biodiversity confirms that the world has failed to meet its target, set in 2002, to achieve ‘a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010’. “We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history -- extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate,” says Ahmed Djoglaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The report is based on scientific assessments, national reports submitted by governments, and a study on future biodiversity scenarios. It is a collaboration between the Secretariat of the CBD and the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

Some of the main findings of the report are:

  • Species that have been assessed for extinction risk are moving closer to extinction, particularly amphibians and coral; nearly a quarter of plant species are threatened with extinction.
  • The abundance of vertebrate species, based on assessed populations, fell by nearly a third between 1970 and 2006, and continues to fall globally.
  • Natural habitats in most parts of the world continue to decline in extent and integrity, although there have been some efforts to slow the rate of loss in tropical forests and mangroves, in some regions. Freshwater wetlands, sea ice habitats, salt marshes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and shell-fish reefs are all showing serious declines.
  • Extensive fragmentation and degradation of forests, rivers and other ecosystems have also led to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Crop and livestock genetic diversity continues to decline in agricultural systems.
  • The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss (habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change) are either constant or increasing in intensity.
  • The ecological footprint of humanity exceeds the biological capacity of the earth by a wider margin than at the time the 2010 target was agreed.

Potential ‘tipping points’

The report makes the point that biodiversity underpins all human activity and that further loss of biodiversity will see a severe reduction of many essential services to human societies as several ‘tipping points’ are approached.

When ecosystems are pushed beyond certain tipping thresholds, they shift to alternative, less productive states from which it may be difficult or impossible to recover. These could result in catastrophes like the dying out of the Amazon forests due to the interaction of deforestation, fire and climate change. Such ‘dieback’ becomes much more likely to occur if deforestation exceeds 20-30% (it is currently above 17% in the Brazilian Amazon).

The build-up of phosphates and nitrates from agricultural fertiliser and sewage effluents can shift freshwater lakes and other inland water ecosystems into a long-term, algae-dominated (eutrophic) state. This could lead to declining fish availability with implications for food security in many developing countries.

Multiple collapses of coral reef ecosystems, due to a combination of ocean acidification, warmer water leading to bleaching, over-fishing and nutrient pollution threatens the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of species directly dependent on coral reef resources.

The word ‘biodiversity’, a contraction of the synonymous phrase ‘biological diversity’, is defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems’.

The CBD is one of the three Rio Conventions emerging out of the Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It came into force at the end of 1993, with the following objectives: ‘The conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding.’

There are currently 193 parties to the convention (192 countries and the European Union). In April 2002, the parties to the convention committed themselves to achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth. This target was subsequently endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development (the Rio+10 Summit) in Johannesburg, 2002, and by the United Nations General Assembly. It was also incorporated as a new target under one of the Millennium Development Goals -- Ensure Environmental Sustainability. The 2010 biodiversity target is therefore a commitment from all governments including those not party to the CBD.

Staving off catastrophe

The report argues, however, that such outcomes can be avoided if there is a will to do so. For example, urgent action is needed to reduce land-based pollution and destructive fishing practices that weaken coral reefs and make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

It emphasises the links between biodiversity loss and climate change, both of which must be addressed by policymakers. Conserving biodiversity and the ecosystems it underpins can help store more carbon, reducing further build-up of greenhouse gases.

The ‘Outlook’ outlines a possible new strategy for reducing biodiversity loss, learning lessons from the failure to meet the 2010 target. It includes addressing the underlying causes or indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such as patterns of consumption, impacts of increased trade and demographic change. Ending harmful subsidies would also be an important step.

Asia and the Pacific

The report’s assessment of the Asia and the Pacific region is gloomy, even though some progress has been made. In 2008, the Asia-Pacific region contained the world’s highest number of threatened species (more than 400 animal and 250 plant species in India). Over the period 2002-2009, nearly 2,500 species in Asia and the Pacific have gone onto the ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or ‘vulnerable’ list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Medicinal plants face a high risk of extinction with continuing dependence on wild collection. The region has seen a net overall gain of forests over the period 2000–2009, but high rates of fragmentation and net loss of forests have continued in many countries in South and South-East Asia. Over the period 2000-2005, the rate of loss of primary forests was fastest in Cambodia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, and Vietnam, accounting for a quarter of the world’s total losses over that period.

As far as the coastal ecosystem goes, this is the only region in the world in which the rate of loss of mangrove forests has not slowed in recent years. Shrimp farming and other forms of mariculture are to blame in large part.

Progress in designating protected areas is modest even though they contain a large number of threatened species. The terrestrial area designated as legally protected constitutes less than 9% of the total surface area. This is below the global average.

While prospects for biodiversity in the region remain “shaky”, there has been some progress: 87% of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity have developed national biodiversity strategies and action plans. Since 2002, 739 additional sites were added to the list of what are known as ‘Ramsar sites’, under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. There has been coordination between countries to ensure that critical ecosystems in the region are protected, and information networks between countries formed. And, to establish a new strategic plan for the post-2010 era, countries in the region have agreed on a thorough evaluation of current successes and failures.

Source: Executive Summary of ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook-3’ 

Infochange News & Reports, July 2010