Biodiversity nears ‘point of no return’ by Hilary Benn

17/1/2010 BBC The decline in the world’s biodiversity is approaching a point of no return, warns Hilary Benn.In this week’s Green Room, the UK’s environment secretary urges the international community to seize the chance to act before it is too late.
“ Much greater concerted effort is needed to stop the plunder of our ecosystems ”

In 2002, the world’s governments made a commitment to significantly reduce the
rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
Although it is hard to measure how much biodiversity we have, we do know these
targets have not been met.
Our ecological footprint - what we take out of the planet - is now 1.3 times the
biological capacity of the Earth.
In the words of Professor Bob Watson, Defra’s chief scientific adviser and
former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are
in danger of approaching “a point of no return”.
So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the
stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice
Age 10,000 years ago will continue.
To do this, we need to widen the nature of the debate about biodiversity. Flora
and fauna matter for their own sake; they lift our spirits and nurture our
But our ecosystems also sustain us and our economies - purifying our drinking
water, producing our food and regulating our climate.
Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked. We ignore natural
capital at our peril.
The UK and Brazil are hosting a workshop in preparation for the next UN
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Representatives from more than 60 countries - from the Maldives to China - will
attend the three-day event to discuss how we can ensure that the post-2010
targets stand a better chance of being met than those set in 2002.
The majority of those attending are from developing countries, including those
with the rarest and greatest biodiversity. They need to be listened to.
It is easy to have principles when you can afford then - economics and ecology
are interdependent.
So when it comes to biodiversity, we desperately need to start restoring links
between science and policy, between taking action and evaluating it and between
economies and ecosystems.
The big challenge will be for the real benefits of biodiversity and the hard
costs of its loss to be included in our economic systems and markets.
Perverse subsidies and the lack of value attached to the services provided by
ecosystems have been factors contributing to their loss. What we cannot cost, we
don’t value - until it has gone.
Investing in the future
Much greater concerted effort is needed to stop the plunder of our ecosystems.
“ The restoration of our ecosystems must be seen as a sensible and
cost-effective investment in this planet’s economic survival and growth ”

Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the
The burning of Indonesia’s peat lands and forests for palm oil plantations
generates 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and demand is predicted to
double by 2020 compared to 2000.
More than seven million hectares are lost worldwide to deforestation every
single year.
The restoration of our ecosystems must be seen as a sensible and cost-effective
investment in this planet’s economic survival and growth.
I am optimistic. Talking about the danger of climate change has brought with it
opportunities to tackle the biodiversity crisis.
While the 2010 targets have not been met, more than 160 countries now have
national biodiversity action plans.
Mechanisms now exist for research, monitoring and scientific assessment of
biodiversity, although we now need an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity
and Ecosystem Services to oversee progress in the same way the IPCC does for
climate change.
One example of progress is the Brazilian Government’s new target, which requires
illegal deforestation to be cut by 80% by 2020.
Last year, deforestation rates in Brazil dropped by 45% against those of 2008,
the largest fall since records began.
Other examples, closer to home, are the UK’s Sites of Special Scientific
Interest (SSSIs) - 89% are in a good or recovering condition.
Our ninth National Park, in the South Downs, was created last year and
agri-environmental schemes are producing significant improvements in
2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and later this year - in Nagoya,
Japan - we will have the chance to halt the decline of our planet’s
It is up to us to seize it.
Hilary Benn is the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

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