A new and more intelligent compact between humanity and the Earth's life-support systems is urgently needed in 2010-the UN's International Year of Biodiversity. This was the year when governments had agreed to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss: this has not happened. Instead of reflecting, governments, business and society as a whole need to urgently renew and recommit to this enterprise if sustainability is to be realized in the 21st century.
The Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 contains the sobering facts and figures while pin pointing several key reasons as to why the challenge of conserving and indeed enhancing biodiversity remains unmet. One key area is economics: many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, hosted by UNEP, is a major exercise aimed at bridging understanding and driving action in this area. It will complement the GBO-3 in advance of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya later in the year. Already some compelling and catalyzing facts are emerging.
- Annual losses as a result of deforestation andforest degradation alone may equate to losses ofUS$2 trillion to over US$4.5 trillion alone. Thesecould be secured by an annual investment of justUS$45 billion: a 100 to 1 return.
Many countries are beginning to factor natural capital into some areas of economic and social life with important returns, but this needs rapid and sustained scaling-up.
- In Venezuela, investment in the national protected area system is preventing sedimentation that otherwise could reduce farm earnings by around US$3.5 million a year.
- Planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam costs just over US$1 million but saved annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of well over US$7 million.
Mainstreaming the economics of biodiversity and the multi-trillion dollar services of the ecosystems which it supports into development, decision-making can make 2010 a success.
Other 'litmus tests' include bridging the gap between science and policy-makers by perhaps the establishment of an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Public awareness will also be key: de-mystifying terms such as biodiversity and ecosystems is one challenge. The other is to make the link between biodiversity and livelihoods and the important role of biodiversity and natural systems in meeting other sustainability challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and agriculture.
Governments also need to rise to the challenge of Alien Invasive Species. By some estimates, they may be costing the global economy US$1.4 trillion or more. In sub-Saharan Africa, the invasive witchweed is responsible for annual maize losses amounting to US$7 billion: overall losses to aliens may amount to over US$12 billion in respect to Africa's eight principal crops.
Last but not least, a successful conclusion to negotiations on an international regime on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources is needed. This is the missing pillar of the CBD and perhaps its financial mechanism: a successful conclusion would indeed make 2010 a year to applaud.
The arrogance of humanity is that somehow we imagine we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050.