Sunday, November 18, 2018

Protecting our flora and fauna

Amid the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs, the agenda at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh could hardly be more important, but the spirit of international collaboration appears to be as much at risk of extinction as the world’s endangered wildlife. The United States has never signed up and Brazil is among a growing group of countries where new nationalist leaders are shifting away from global cooperation. Part of the reason for the low level of interest is that the last two major biodiversity agreements – in 2002 and 2010 – have been ineffectual. At Nagoya in Japan eight years ago, the 196 signatory nations to the CBD signed up to the Aichi biodiversity targets: to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. With two years left in the Aichi plan, the conference this year will show that many of the 20 targets have been missed. And even apparent progress in the creation of new protected areas is misleading because governments from Brazil to China have done little to police these “paper reserves”.

Coverage tends to centre on a few totemic species, such as lions, chimpanzees and pandas, rather than the collapsing ecosystems on which we depend. Yet there is growing evidence that the crisis of the natural world has become as much of a threat to humankind and is amplifying the chaos in the world’s weather systems.

Since 1970 humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.  One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction. Recent studies have also tracked calamitous declines of pollinating insects in the US, Costa Rica and Germany, promoting warnings of ecological Armageddon.

More important still, he said, was to consider trade and investment because it is no use wealthy countries donating a few hundred million dollars for conservation programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America if they continue to promote trillion-dollar trades in commodities that accelerate the loss of habitats. As an example, he said the UK contributes money to efforts to protect the Cerrado savannah in Brazil yet at the same time imports vast quantities of the soya beans that are the biggest cause of deforestation in that region.
“It’s completely incoherent,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF , who was a delegate for the UK at the Nagoya conference. “We must tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss or we will be in same place in 10 years’ time.”
Izabella Teixeira, who led the Brazilian negotiating time in Nagoya, blamed the failure of the 2010 goals on the inability of conservationists to build ties with other sectors of government and business.
“There is no comprehensive political and economic constituency for this agenda as there is with the climate and now water,” she said. “We have to build a new policy bringing together science, environment and innovation. Industry is important for this. We need clearer rules for investing in biotechnology, and use of protected areas and infrastructure and logistics to enable business and research.”
“Many of the things we need to do to address biodiversity loss are exactly what we need to solve the climate problem,” said Matt Walpole of Flora and Fauna International. “We haven’t succeeded in getting across how important biodiversity is. It’s not just about a few endangered species. It is absolutely clear that what is happening to our ecosystems has an impact on humanity.”

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