Biodiversity: the natural environment saves lives and livelihoods

Biodiversity is in full swing these days. 2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity. The commitment to substantially reduce rates of biodiversity loss by 2010 was incorporated into the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals in 2005.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of genes, species, and ecosystems that make up life on Earth. It provides a wide variety of essential goods and services to the world, including everything from basic material needs (food, wood, fiber, and medicine) to underlying ecosystem services like flood and pest control, pollination, and climate regulation.

Loss of biodiversity and environmental impact

Biodiversity is lost as animal and plant species disappear from certain areas or the planet altogether. The World Conservation Union’s annual “Red List”, the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the world’s animals and plants, places the number of endangered species at 16,306 in 2007. Forces largely man-made They include habitat destruction, overexploitation and invasive competitors pushing 52 species per category closer to extinction each year.

Up to half of all logging in the top five timber producing countries in 2009 consisted of illegal and unsustainable logging. Strong global demand for seafood in the form of high-level ocean predators like tuna and salmon threatens the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. In Zimbabwe, poaching of wildlife in national parks and private hunting conservatories by supporters of President Robert Mugabe is believed to have cost the country more than half of its wildlife.

The adverse effects of many natural disasters are compounded by failures to protect biodiversity and ecosystem services. This can be seen regularly in the outcomes of disasters around the world, from Haiti to Indonesia. For example, deforestation makes many areas more vulnerable to mudslides that wipe out homes, crops and lives.

Framing the problem

The Group of 8 leading industrialized countries initiated the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Economics (TEEB) project to study the economic impact of ecosystem services and changes in biodiversity. The 2010 TEEB study places the annual value contributed by the world’s wetlands at $ 3.4 billion and the annual loss of natural capital from ecosystems such as forests at $ 2-4.5 billion. Other recent estimates place the economic value of the benefits of maintaining the biodiversity of natural ecosystems at between 10 and 100 times their cost.

In most cases, those who bear the brunt of the impact of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are people living off the land in less developed countries. These people depend directly on nature for their food, shelter and income. They generally do not have the resources or the training to turn to the modern artificial tools available to the richest populations to help compensate for the loss of nature’s services.

Success stories in biodiversity conservation

Fortunately, we have the ability to restore and protect biodiversity and natural ecosystem services. There have already been a number of noteworthy success stories.

An innovative Indonesian conservation law enacted in 2007 has enabled sustainable logging management and ecosystem restoration.

In Costa Rica, a study found that coffee plantations near forested areas had 20 percent higher yields due to the economic services of wild pollinating organisms, which translated into an additional $ 60,000 in income per farmer.

The extinction of at least 16 bird species was prevented between 1994 and 2004 thanks to a variety of ecological conservation programs, including habitat management, removal of invasive species, captive breeding, and the reintroduction of endangered species. extinction.

The benefits of maintaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity prevail in both developed areas and remote locations. New York City restored the quality of its drinking water by restoring the local natural ecosystem. In the process, it avoided paying $ 8 billion for a water treatment facility that would have otherwise been required by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

International development and foreign aid

Wealthy donor countries, such as the Group of 8, have an important role to play in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in developing countries. Donor countries have tended to view aid too narrowly in terms of humanitarian aid efforts and physical infrastructure projects. While both are enormously important and valuable, they often fail to address biodiversity as a key driver of economic livelihoods and survival in much of the developing world. Effective aid packages should empower institutions in developing countries and include incentives for local stakeholders to actively participate in conserving their own natural ecosystems.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The global supply chains of multinational companies can have a tremendous impact on local biodiversity and ecosystems. Companies should make the adoption and implementation of sustainability practices a central component of their corporate social responsibility policies. Local countries could promote environmentally responsible business behavior by linking incentives with the adoption of sustainable business practices, with the aim of obtaining positive economic benefits from their investments in these incentives.

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