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'Pious Words Won't Save Endangered Species'

 IPS 20 May 2019

(Originally published: 01/2010) Less than a month after the world's heads of governments failed to sign an international treaty to address climate change at Copenhagen, they are back at making pious speeches, this time in favour of protecting biodiversity, endangered by global warming and other causes. Meeting in Berlin, leaders of international organisations, such as the United Nations and environmental groups, and high ranking officials of governments warned again that the present global environmental crisis is decimating biodiversity. They came to officially launch the "International Year of Biodiversity" and celebrate "life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives.” However, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's largest coalition of environmental organisations, well over 17,000 species face immediate extinction.  - By Julio Godoy

Less than a month after the world's heads of governments failed to sign an international treaty to address climate change at Copenhagen, they are back at making pious speeches, this time in favour of protecting biodiversity, endangered by global warming and other causes.

Meeting in Berlin, leaders of international organisations, such as the United Nations and environmental groups, and high ranking officials of governments warned again that the present global environmental crisis is decimating biodiversity.

They came to Berlin to officially launch the "International Year of Biodiversity" and celebrate "life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives," as the official line goes.

At the ceremony, the leaders repeated the well-known mantra that the variety of species biodiversity represents constitutes an essential condition for human life, which needs to be preserved.

But biodiversity faces severe man-made dangers. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world's largest coalition of environmental organisations, well over 17,000 species - out of the 47,677 the group has registered in its list as endangered - face immediate extinction.

IUCN affirms that the number of the endangered species rises by the day. At the ceremony in Berlin, the German head of government Angela Merkel called for "a reversal of (this) trend.'' Merkel emphasised: ''Immediately and not some time later."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who attended the ceremony in Berlin, also warned that "species and ecosystems are disappearing at an unsustainable rate. Our lives depend on biodiversity, which we take for granted," he said.

Merkel admitted, however, that the objective of halting the extinction of species by 2010, set at different international conferences on the issue during the past decade, is now illusory.

This is precisely why environmental activists urge governments to end their pious speeches and finally take significant action. Referring to Merkel's speech at the U.N. event, and the lack of policies by her government to protect species in Germany, Magnus Wessel, of the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union, said: "Enough has been said, it is time to act."

According to the IUCN, some 50 percent of all amphibian species risk extinction. The IUCN includes in its red list of species facing extinction 70 percent of botanic life, 37 percent of freshwater fish, 28 percent of reptilians, 21 percent of mammals, and 12 percent of all birds.

The World Wide Fund for Life estimates that between 1970 and 2005 some 27 percent of species disappeared.

Biodiversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and micro-organisms which populate the earth. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects and micro-organisms.

Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from three to 100 million. Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species, for instance between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock.

Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes. In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and the soil around them.

The loss of biodiversity has a heavy economic impact. A study by the 'Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity' (TEEB), released in late 2009, estimated the losses caused by the decimation of fauna and flora at up to five billion euros (some 7.2 billion US dollars) per year.

According to the TEEB, a European Union-sponsored project to measure the economic importance of biodiversity, between 2000 and 2050 some seven percent of the world's gross product may be lost due to species extinction.

TEEB estimated that investments of just 40 - 45 billion dollars per year would be needed to offset such losses caused by the destruction of coral reefs, erosion, extensive agriculture, excessive harvesting for human consumption, and other phenomena, most of them caused directly or indirectly by economic activities.

The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) points out that "habitat loss through changes of land use, in particular the conversion of natural ecosystems to cropland, continues to be the biggest direct cause of biodiversity loss."

Already, more than half of earth's 14 terrestrial biomes (climatically and geographically defined areas with ecologically similar conditions) have had between 20 to 50 percent of their total area converted to cropland.

Another reason for loss of biodiversity is the over-exploitation of species. "Many species are in a state of decline because they are being used at unsustainable levels or are being harvested in ways that threaten the ecosystems on which they depend," the CBD points out.

Climate change is also considered to become a more significant threat to biodiversity in the coming decades. Already, changes in the timing of flowering and migration patterns as well as in the distribution of species have been observed worldwide.

In Europe, over the last 40 years the beginning of the growing season has advanced by 10 days on average. These types of changes can alter food chains and create mismatches within ecosystems where different species have evolved synchronised interdependence, for example between nesting and food availability.

In its study last year, the TEEB addressed a message to the Copenhagen summit, calling attention to the three most important issues concerning biodiversity.

"We face the imminent loss of coral reefs due to climate change, with all the serious ecological, social, and economic consequences this will entail," the study pointed out. In addition, TEEB recalled that "forests perform a valuable function in capturing and storing carbon."

"An early and appropriate agreement on forest carbon would be a significant opportunity to mitigate climate change. It would also set the stage for related mechanisms to reward other ecosystem services from forests," the study added.

Finally, TEEB said that "there is a compelling cost-benefit case for public investment in ecological infrastructure (especially restoring and conserving forests, mangroves, river basins, wetlands, etc.), particularly because of its significant potential as a means of adaptation to climate change."

The TEEB message was ignored.

Few of these potential losses have been already dealt with, by enlarging the protected areas during the past 20 years, to some 12 percent of earth's surface. In addition, several species have been saved from extinction.

Emile Frisson, director general of Biodiversity International (BI), said at the ceremony that many of these potential losses directly affect human survival. "Any discussion of biodiversity conservation needs to remember that the diversity of crops and livestock is absolutely fundamental to human survival and well-being.''

BI is the world's largest international research organisation dedicated solely to the conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity. "Agricultural biodiversity is not only vital for nutrition, it is also indispensable in meeting the challenges of climate change and in lifting poor people out of poverty," said Frisson.

During the international year of biodiversity, numerous conferences and events underlining the importance of preserving fauna and flora will be held around the world.

<i>***** + International Year of Biodiversity (http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome) + BIODIVERSITY: Alien Species Eroding Ecosystems and Livelihoods (http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=46938)</i>

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