2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and the time to review the efforts of humanity to conserve biodiversity. In 2002, during the 6th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), governments worldwide committed to "achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the local, national and regional levels, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth." This objective was included as a target of Millennium Development Goal 7 "Ensure environmental sustainability" and has pushed biodiversity conservation onto the political agenda of many countries. Over 170 countries have developed national biodiversity strategies and action plans. Protected areas have been expanded and increased financial resources have been provided for biodiversity conservation. All these activities, however, have not been able to halt the trend. The loss of biodiversity continues unabated.
Biodiversity loss is human driven. The current rate of species extinction is approximately 1,000 times higher than the "natural" rate which has prevailed throughout Earth's history. The main pressures on biodiversity are habitat degradation, overexploitation, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on a global scale. Since industrialized countries have been very successful in eliminating biodiversity in their own territories, the largest proportion of remaining biodiversity is in developing countries.
Many reports have drawn attention to the decline of biodiversity and ecosystems and its consequences for human well-being. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) released in 2005, for example, pointed out that around 60% of all ecosystem services are being degraded or used in ways that cannot be sustained. Between twelve and 32% of all mammal, bird, and amphibian species are threatened by extinction due to human actions. The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 3), published May 2010, underlines these trends and highlights how some ecosystems are already at the "tipping point". This means that their continued gradual destruction will have serious, irreversible consequences for nature and human beings.
Since these reports have had almost no effect on policy-making, new approaches advising on policy are needed. Efforts are being undertaken to create an international instrument called the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The IPBES is intended to strengthen dialogue between biodiversity scientists and policy-makers, like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), systematically gather data, and increase and consolidate scientific evidence for biodiversity conservation efforts. It will collect and provide scientifically sound and relevant information to support the development of policies for conserving and using biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Biodiversity needs to be maintained because it contributes directly and indirectly to human well-being. Biodiversity and functioning ecosystems are crucial buffers against extreme climate events. They also act as carbon sinks and pollution filters. According to the FAO, the world's forests store some 289 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in trees and vegetation at the present time. Biodiversity is the direct means of existence for many humans. It is also often primarily used to produce export goods that contribute to economic development, whether in agriculture and forestry, fishing, medicine or in tourism. The life of 1.6 billion human beings is based on forestry products (wood, mushrooms, berries etc.) This is undercut by the annual deforestation of 13 million hectares per year. Fish is the staple food of more than one billion humans, and yet 80% of the fish stocks have already been fully exploited or overfished. 80 % of the population of Africa uses plants and animals for principal health care as part of traditional medicine.
Poor people in developing countries will be affected the most by the reduction in biodiversity. The poor depend on the continuous supply of natural resources to sustain their daily lives and give them the capacity to adapt to future environmental changes. They do not have the resources, the ability or the choice of substituting or offsetting local losses of biodiversity and its services by shifting their production and harvest to other regions or switching to other forms of income.
Although the benefits of biodiversity conservation are high for local communities, we must remember that the impact of conservation measures can be negative due to the loss of income opportunities and living space they can cause. The creation of protected areas denies farmers future land use options and creates potentially significant economic opportunity costs. Therefore governments need to identify policy approaches that allow the joint implementation of poverty alleviation and conservation policies. Many indigenous people live in biodiversity hotspots. Consequently, traditional indigenous territories are often found in or overlap with protected areas. Indigenous peoples play a key role in biodiversity conservation and have been responsible for the preservation and maintenance of traditional knowledge and practices that are highly relevant for the sustainable use of biodiversity. In Article 8 (j), the CBD acknowledges this special role and calls for the respect and preservation of this knowledge. Policy-makers need to recognize the important role indigenous communities play in biodiversity conservation.
The poor are not the only beneficiaries of biodiversity conservation. Industrial countries which have already used up a large part of their own natural resources also depend on the worldwide availability of resources. Turnover for the pharmaceutical and agro-industry is, for example, largely based on genetic resources. An increasing loss of biodiversity in future will shrink the gene pool. Humans will be less able to react to future needs (e.g. illnesses, climate change).
A look at the negative consequences of the loss of biodiversity raises an important question: why hasn't the international community been able to curb this loss? If we calculated the total value of biodiversity for human development, we would invariably come to the conclusion that protective efforts are a worthwhile investment. But so far biodiversity has been regarded as a public good and its contributions have evaded economic assessment. Losing it is accepted as an inevitable side effect of economic activities.
After a meeting of the G8 environment ministers in Potsdam, a study entitled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity" (TEEB) was commissioned in 2007 with the objective of clarifying the actual costs of biodiversity loss and provide policy-makers with new arguments in favour of conservation. The first results of the study show that the drop in terrestrial biodiversity has cost the global community around 500 billion US $ in the past ten years and destroyed a great deal of potential for a later use. The annual profit lost through non-sustainable fishing, for example, is currently estimated at 50 billion US $.
According to the CBD's sovereignty principle, responsibility for investing in biodiversity lies with the individual state. Almost every country (with the exception of Andorra and the USA) has signed the Convention on Biological Diversity and thus subscribed to its goals – the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from its use. Developing countries are overwhelmed by this task, however, and need the support of industrialised nations to finance the necessary investments.
Development cooperation is required here. It can contribute to ensuring that the increasing loss of biodiversity does not result in ever worsening living conditions for the poor and it can promote the non-destructive use of protected resources, e.g. by promoting sustainable tourism. Currently the share of official development cooperation funds invested in the protection of biodiversity is at three percent, too small to really slow down the ongoing loss of biodiversity. At the next Conference of the Parties to the CBD, which will take place in Nagoya in October 2010, setting new or revised targets is on the agenda. If these new goals are to be taken seriously, however, funding must be considerably increased.