It’s undeniable how far humans have become. Men (and women) have done a lot of things that are considered impossible. We have sailed the oceans, flew up to the sky, reached the moon, heard someone’s voice from afar, took a photo, saw moving images from a box, sent messages here and there, talked to a loved one and eventually seeing their faces on the screen and most recently, accomplishing several important tasks with a touch of our fingertips.
However, due to the industrialization and modernization, it costs the environment a lot. Smoke from the cars, cigarettes, and factories contribute to CO2 emissions which greatly affects the quality of air. Oils spilling to the seas and oceans pollute our food and water sources. The rising temperatures expose us to extreme climate change and melting of ice sheets and ice shelves. The increasing patronage of single-use plastics has a massive impact both in land and marine life.
This is not something new. Everyone is aware of our environment’s current situation. Some of them are still denying that these problems exist while others do but chose to do nothing. But it’s important to note that, just recently, there was a call for action for all countries, developed or developing, to come up with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth while addressing climate change and environmental preservation. This led to the creation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015.
Looking at the latest SDGs, the Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) provides substantive support and capacity-building for the SDGs and their related thematic issues such water, energy, climate, oceans, urbanization, transport, and science and technology.
With that being said, it’s quite noticeable that loss of biodiversity is not on the SDGs table as of the moment.
According to Britannica, an online encyclopedia, Biodiversity loss, also called the loss of biodiversity, refers to the decrease in biodiversity within a species, an ecosystem, a given geographic area, or Earth as a whole.
When we hear the word “biodiversity”, species richness often comes into mind. That is why when we talk about biodiversity loss, people will most likely associate it with the loss of certain species from either an ecosystem or the whole biosphere which is problematic because it overlooks other subtle phenomena that affect ecosystem health on a long-term basis.
An ecosystem works through the interaction of living and non-living things. It only means that every species has a role to play and the extinction of certain species will greatly affect the balance within the ecosystem.
Let’s take our previous blog entitled, “Agriculture: No Future without Bees”, as an example. A bee colony is responsible for pollinating 300 million flowers a day. The plants that we consume like fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees. In fact, 90% of the world’s nutrition relies on bee pollination. So, the continuous decline of the bee population imposes a great threat to agriculture and nutrition. Simply put, if the bees go extinct, 70 out of 100 human food crops will disappear as well unless we find a plausible alternative.
There are two causes of biodiversity loss:
- Natural – loss of biodiversity caused by natural ecological disturbances, such as wildfire, floods, and volcanic eruptions, change ecosystems drastically by eliminating local populations of some species and transforming whole biological communities.
- Human-driven – ecological disturbances caused by human activities
It’s evident that human-driven biodiversity loss is more severe and longer-lasting.
According to an article from National Geographic, there is a review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources and compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries which provides the first comprehensive look in 15 years at the state of the Earth’s biodiversity. In this review, the authors found out that human activities are the main cause of nature’s decline. The major drivers of human-driven biodiversity loss are land conversion, deforestation, overfishing, bush mean hunting and poaching, and pollution.
There are about 1,000,000 endangered species that are bound to extinction caused by human activities according to a UN report. If the decline of biodiversity continues, human beings and other species in the biosphere will face serious consequences in the near future.
According to IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Global Assessment, the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. Over 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and over a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but there is evidence which supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species are endangered since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Now you might ask, “What does biodiversity loss have to do with development and why have development organizations not engaged in this topic the way that have with climate change?”
Based on an article by GreenFacts Initiative, a non-profit project which aims to bring complex scientific consensus reports on health and the environment to the reach of non-specialists, biodiversity is a key instrumental and constitutive factor determining human well-being.
They have findings which support how diversity loss and deteriorating ecosystem services contribute directly or indirectly to worsening health, higher food insecurity, increasing vulnerability, lower material wealth, worsening social relations, and less freedom for choice and action.
GreenFacts also pointed out that biodiversity offers various goods like plants, animals, and fungi that individuals need in order to earn an income and secure sustainable livelihoods. The agricultural labor force currently contains approximately 22% of the world’s population and accounts for 46% of its total labor force. In India’s Himalayan region, apples are a major cash crop which accounts for 60-80% of total household income.
Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of global tourism which became a particularly important economic sector in a number of countries and a potential source of income for rural communities. For example, the revenue of nature-based tourism in South Africa was estimated to be 3.6 billion USD in 2000 which is roughly half of its total tourism revenue. Countries like Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe each generated more than 100 million USD of annual revenue from nature-based tourism in 2000. Lastly, Tanzania’s ecotourism contributed 30% of the total national GDP.
Furthermore, biodiversity also contributes to other industries such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and horticulture. Market trends vary depending on the industry and the country involved. However, many bioprospecting activities and revenues are expected to increase over the years. As a matter of fact, the current economic climate suggests that pharmaceutical bioprospecting will increase, especially since new methods use evolutionary and ecological knowledge.
Going back to the other question, why have development organizations not involved?
Dilys Roe, a principal researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources research group, explained that part of the problem is the complexity of biodiversity which makes it hard to communicate. Because of this, it’s easier for development organizations to think that biodiversity is not really aligned to their work or it might actually work against them. Ms. Roe even cited an example where conservation efforts to save some wildlife species brought significant costs to the poor people and seemed to even undermine development.
Since human activities destroy biodiversity at least 1,000 times faster than how it naturally is, there is indeed an impending development crisis. Everything that the SDGs are working from food security to basic materials necessary for a good life and sustainable livelihoods is greatly affected. It’s clear that this is not just an environmental issue. There are a paper and briefing from IIED which provides a summary of evidence that supports the gravity of this issue.
What should we do now?
Since May 2019, representatives from the world’s governments have revised the summary for policymakers. They’ve added remedial scenarios like “transformative change” across all areas of government, revised trade rules, massive investments in forests and other green infrastructure, and changes in individual behavior (e.g. lower consumption of meat and material goods).
One of the main authors of the report and a global authority on corals, David Obura, mentioned that they have tried to document the degree of threat in order to focus people’s perception of biodiversity. However, he also felt that it’s not too late to exert huge efforts on transformational behavioral change since species are not the only thing that is on the line here. The whole life-support is at stake.
The United Nations will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2020. This is considered as a year for international environment and development diplomacy. The SDGs will reach its midpoint and its progressed will be assessed which will determine whether the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement have been met. The UN will also pursue a new treaty to regulate high seas, and different parties of UN-CDB will discuss and agree on a new decade long framework tackling the alarming rate of biodiversity loss.
This is a great opportunity to involve development and rights-based organizations in the amendment of the SDGs as to how the new framework will address the loss of biodiversity. This is quite important because it’s impossible to achieve the SDGs without touching on nature which is the fabric of life.
Since the release of the report, many governments expressed their concern about the issue and even praised the findings of the report. However, this isn’t enough. We need to take action.
Governments have already imposed practices like creating protected areas, improving waste treatment systems, banning the use of plastics, improving fishing gears and recycling among others. These are enormously helpful but significant changes will be seen if people will work together.
We should look at the root of the problem if we want to reduce or contain nature’s destruction. To conclude this article, it’s good to point out this suggestion from chathamhouse.org:
Importantly, these root causes are all related to our lifestyles. That’s why we say, although the biodiversity crisis looks biological, the causes and solutions are deeply social.
So, governments need to integrate biodiversity considerations across all sectors – not just better environmental policies but also better policies related to agriculture, infrastructure and trade. Biodiversity is not just a concern for respective ministers of environment – it’s a concern for all ministers since it’s a concern for all sectors.
The solution is quite simple yet challenging. We should put nature and the public good first before anything else. The good of all living things and the environment, not just people, should be prioritized. We should never set it aside at the expense of the economic interest for certain groups of people.