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World Governments Meet in Latest Effort to Stem the Tide of Biodiversity Loss

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Representatives from more than 170 countries are meeting in Hyderabad, India this week to discuss progress, problems and challenges in implementing the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one of three historic international environmental agreements produced at the UN Earth Summit on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

All 193 UN member governments have signed and ratified the CBD, meaning they’re a party to it. As stated in the convention, the objectives of the CBD “are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization 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.”

What Value Biodiversity?

This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP 11) is the eleventh since the CBD went into effect in 1993. It’s meant to advance the cause of protecting the biodiversity in a period of time in Earth history that’s been dubbed “The Sixth Extinction Crisis.”

Of the estimated 13-14 million species of life on Earth, just 1.9 million have been described. Human activities have been the dominant culprit in driving species, genetic and ecosystem extinction to a rate 1,000-10,000 times higher than expected “background” natural extinction rate. Scientists estimate that the survival of one in eight bird species, one-quarter of all mammal species, one-third of the planet’s amphibians and one in two of all species of tortoises and freshwater turtles is now threatened with extinction. Marine fish stocks are being decimated sequentially by commercial fishing.

At COP 11 in Hyderabad, CBD member governments are seeking to build on a historic “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity” and two new supplementary CBD protocols—guidelines for action—agreed to at CBD COP 10 in Nagoya, Japan in 2010 that aim to halt biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. In keeping with that pledge, the UN has declared the decade from 2011-2020 “The International Decade of Biodiversity.”

“While the COP10 outcomes are remarkable achievements, there will be no change unless they are implemented. At COP11, I trust that we can agree on further measures to overcome challenges that require additional efforts,” Ryu Matsumoto, Japan’s former environment minister who served as COP 10 president in Nagoya, stated at COP 11’s opening ceremony.

A New Approach to Saving Biodiversity

“We need to … adopt new approaches and mechanisms, emphasizing the leveraging of resources from existing sources through mainstreaming, incorporating sustainability criteria in government procurement, reviewing and adjusting of economic instruments, and further engaging the business sector,” added CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias in his opening remarks.
“We will be judged by our acts, not our words.”

As distanced and disconnected as so many of are from direct contact and regular interaction with ecosystems and wildlife, the tremendous value of wildlife and ecosystems and the essential, life-giving and life-supporting services they provide are obscured, neglected or ignored by large parts of the human population, including our government institutions and economic enterprises.

Lack of awareness, apathy and preoccupation with accumulating material goods and wealth in order to assure our own survival and enhance our “quality of life” lead us to ignore the alarming loss of biodiversity that’s taking place all around us–that is until the day we wake up and find that the essential services and activities biodiversity provides are no longer available and the species that enrich our lives no longer exist.

“Our collective experience and the new analysis through initiatives such as TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) others have illuminated that the costs of inaction are far higher and will rise and that the losses the world—especially the poor—are sustaining annually as a result of unsustainable management of the natural world dwarf the investments,” UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UNEP Ms. Amina Mohamed stated.

“Furthermore, the private sector has a responsibility and a role to play too within the rules and regulations put in place by governments to ensure equity for all sectors of society. I would be keen to explore with the CBD Executive Secretary and his team, ever improving synergies between the inclusive Green Economy work and the TEEB work and that of the treaty, in particular at the national level” she said.

Achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Aiming to stem and reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity, UN member governments enumerated five strategic goals and 20 associated targets for protecting biodiversity—the Aich Biodiversity Targets–in the CBD strategic plan agreed to in Nagoya:

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

“The present global economic crisis should not deter us, but on the contrary encourage us to invest more towards amelioration of the natural capital for ensuring uninterrupted ecosystem services, on which all life on Earth depends,” India Minister of Environment and Forests Ms Jayanthi Natarajan stated. As CBD COP 11’s host country, India assumes the presidency.

“Let us all be inspired by what Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems’. So let us commit ourselves to what we are capable of doing.”

Image credit: UN Convention on Biological Diversity

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