Addressing Biodiversity Loss
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At the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (the
Earth Summit), the Convention on Biological Diversity1 (CBD) was born.
192 countries, plus the EU, are now Parties to that convention. In April 2002, the Parties to the Convention committed to significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity loss by 2010.
On this page:
Biodiversity 2010 target not met
Perhaps predictably, meeting the 2010 target did not happen.
As the Global Biodiversity Outlook 33 report summarizes, despite numerous successful conservations measures supporting biodiversity, none of the specific targets were met, and biodiversity losses continue.
despite an increase in conservation efforts, the state of biodiversity continues to decline, according to most indicators, largely because the pressures on biodiversity continue to increase. There is no indication of a significant reduction in the rate of decline in biodiversity, nor of a significant reduction in pressures upon it. (p.17)
Most indicators of the state of biodiversity show negative trends, with no significant reduction in the rate of decline:
An example of the positive efforts has been the growth in protected areas in recent years, including more protected marine areas:
However, the level of protection in protected areas is mostly basic:
Putting an economic value on biodiversity
In the biodiversity section8, it is noted that ecosystems provide us many services, for free.
Although some dislike the thought of trying to put an economic value on biodiversity (some things are just priceless), there have been attempts to do so in order for people to understand the magnitude of the issue: how important the environment is to humanity and what costs and benefits there can be in doing (or not doing) something.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)9 is an organization — backed by the UN and various European governments — attempting to compile, build and make a compelling economics case for the conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.
In a recent report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for National and International Policy Makers 2009, TEEB provided the following example of sectors dependent on genetic resources:
|Sector||Size of Market||Comment|
|The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for National and International Policy Makers 200910, p.17|
|Pharmaceutical||US$ 640 bn. (2006)||25-50% derived from genetic resources|
|Biotechnology||US$ 70 bn. (2006) from public companies alone||Many products derived from genetic resources (enzymes, microorganisms)|
|Agricultural seeds||US$ 30 bn. (2006)||All derived from genetic resources|
|Personal care, Botanical and food & Beverage industries||US$ 22 bn. (2006) for herbal supplements
US$ 12 bn. (2006) for personal care
US$ 31 bn. (2006) for food products
|Some products derived from genetic resources. represents ‘natural’ component of the market.|
In addition, it is estimated that implementing REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) could help
- Halve deforestation by 2030, and
- Cut emissions by 1.5 Gt of CO2 per year.
From a cost perspective (p.18), it is estimated that
- It would cost from US$ 17.2 – 33 billion per year
- The estimated benefit in reduced climate change is US$ 3.2 trillion
- The above would be a good return on the initial investment. By contrast, waiting 10 more years could reduce the net benefit of halving deforestation by US$ 500 billion.
The BBC notes that biodiversity is fundamental to economics13. For example,
- The G8 nations, together with 5 major emerging economies — China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico — use almost three-quarters of the Earth’s biocapacity
- An estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes.
Despite these free benefits, it has long been recognized that we tend to ignore or underestimate the value of those services. So much so that economic measures such as GDP often ignores environmental costs.
The economic benefits of protecting the environment are well-understood, even if seemingly rarely practiced:
It has perhaps taken about a decade or so — and a severe enough global financial crisis15 that has hit the heart of this way of thinking — to change this mentality (in which time, more greenhouse gases have been emitted — inefficiently).
Economists talk of the price signal that is fundamental to capitalism; the ability for prices to indicate when a resource is becoming scarcer. At such a time, markets mobilize automatically to address this by looking for ways to bring down costs. As a result, resources are supposedly infinite. For example, if energy costs go up, businesses will look for a way to minimize such costs for themselves, and it is in such a time that alternatives come about and/or existing resources last longer because they are used more efficiently.
Running out of resources should therefore be averted.
However, it has long been argued that prices don’t truly reflect the full cost of things, so either the signal is incorrect, or comes too late. The price signal also implies the poorest often pay the heaviest costs. For example, commercially over-fishing a region may mean fish from that area becomes harder to catch and more expensive, possibly allowing that ecosystem time to recover (though that is not guaranteed, either). However, while commercial entities can exploit resources elsewhere, local fishermen will go out of business and the poorer will likely go hungry (as also detailed on this site’s section on biodiversity16). This then has an impact on various local social, political and economic issues.
In addition to that, other related measurements, such as GNP are therefore flawed, and even reward unproductive or inefficient behavior (e.g.
Efficiently producing unhealthy food — and the unhealthy consumer culture to go with it — may profit the food industry and a private health sector that has to deal with it, all of which require more use of resources. More examples are discussed on this site’s section on consumption and consumerism17).
Our continued inefficient pumping of greenhouse gases into the environment without factoring the enormous cost as the climate already begins to change is perhaps an example where price signals may come too late, or at a time when there is already significant impact to many people. Resources that could be available more indefinitely, become finite because of our inability or unwillingness to change.
In effect, as TEEB, and many others before have argued, a key challenge will be adapting our economic systems to integrate sustainability and human well-being as well as other environmental factors to give us truer costs (after all, market systems are supposed to work when there is full availability of information).
Think of some of the effects this could have:
- Some industrial meat production19, which is very harmful for the environment, may become more expensive
- For example, as mentioned in the previous link, if water used by the meat industry in the United States were not