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Climate Change & Environment

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Biodiversity Loss a Wake-Up Call for Humanity
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Due to “perverse subsidies” and an obsession with economic growth, governments have failed to stem the destruction of the world’s ecosystems. We need a new economic system that values the importance of biodiversity to our well-being, says a report by the United Nations Environment Program.

Link to full report: Global Biodiversity Outlook 3

Further Resources

13th May 2010 - Published by Share The World's Resources

In a pointed wake-up call, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has warned that the world is moving closer to several “tipping points” beyond which the life-sustaining capacity of some ecosystems may be permanently damaged. Targets to reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 have not been met by any national government, says a new report which stresses the importance of addressing the underlying causes of the decline.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 finds that the five pressures directly driving biodiversity loss (habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change) are either constant or increasing in intensity, resulting in a global loss of species at a faster rate than ever before. Many scientists now claim that the earth is undergoing its sixth great extinction event as – for the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared – humans are driving animals and plants to extinction faster than new species can evolve.

Rather than focussing on measures that specifically target at-risk species, the UN emphasises a need to curb the indirect drivers of ecosystem degradation, including economic activities, high levels of international trade, and consumption levels associated with individual wealth. Criticising “perverse subsidies” that encourage unsustainable resource use and wasteful consumption, the report argues that the real value of biodiversity, and the true cost of its loss, needs to be reflected within economic systems.

Echoing the suggestions of a report published last year by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) project, proposed solutions include using pricing, fiscal policies and other mechanisms to counteract the current under-valuation of biodiversity. Beyond providing economic incentives to protect ecosystems, another important step identified is for governments to expand their economic objectives beyond what is measured by gross domestic product (GDP) alone. Policies must be based on other measures of wealth and well-being that take natural capital into account.

“Biodiversity underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water, health and recreation, and protection from natural disasters,” writes UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his foreword. “Its loss also affects us culturally and spiritually. This may be more difficult to quantify, but is nonetheless integral to our well-being.” The poor would face the earliest and most severe impacts if current trends continue, but ultimately all societies and communities would suffer, he adds.

Governments and policy-makers can no longer ignore the message implicit in the UNEP report: for the sake of the planet and the life it sustains, it is time to radically restructure our faulty economic and financial systems. Instead of prioritising growth and private profits, economies should be geared towards ensuring the well-being of all communities within the ecological limits of the planet. If this shift in mindset is not achieved, the crisis we are heading for will be much more serious than defaults on sovereign debt or failing banks – it will be a fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems.

Further Resources

Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 - United Nations Environment Progam, May 2010

TEEB for Policy Makers: Responding to the Value of Nature - Novermber 2009

Depending on Nature: Ecosystem Services for Human Livelihoods -, March 2008

Measuring What Matters: GDP, Ecosystems and the Environment - World Resources Institute, April 2010

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