One Biosphere is an alliance of people and organizations who are united to preserve the quality of our global environment through our forum and publications, education, advocacy, research and communications among our members and partners.
Biodiversity in a Sustainable Biosphere
Biodiversity provides the foundation for our sustainable biosphere and ecosystems. Our biosphere provides all the resources for our survival. Biodiversity is essential to provide improved opportunities for medical discoveries, improved economic development, and more adaptable responses to challenges such as climate change.
It is well established that genetic defects are caused by in-breeding. To avoid this problem, all living species require a broad gene pool to ensure sustainable survival. Otherwise, the odds of extinction of a species are amplified.
Biodiversity impacts the daily lives of all humans and contributes to our standard of living and well-being. It imparts a variety of basic products such as food and fibers. However, there are many essential services which are not generally known. Bacteria and microbes transform waste into usable products, insects pollinate flowers and crops, coral reefs and salt water coastal habitats protect coastlines. A wide variety of biologically-diverse landscapes and coastlines provide enjoyment for many millions of people.
Experts have opined that genetic diversity has been in rapid decline for many years. When products and services offered by biodiversity are managed poorly, long-term options become more restricted. Local ecosystems are often vulnerable to ecosystem change.
Areas lacking biodiversity have restricted development potential. Ecosystems have been transformed and irreversibly degraded. A variety of plant and animal species have become extinct or are threatened with extinction.
The actions of humans have reduced biodiversity on terrestrial and fresh and salt water environments at a much more rapid pace than at any time in human history. Many of the world's ecosystem services have been degraded dramatically, some probably irrevocably.
Human benefits of natural ecosystems are known as ecosystem services and these include resources, processes and products like clean drinking water, waste decomposition, increases in forest area and productivity, creating surplus land for agricultural extensification, biofuel production, soil fertility and forest fires. There are categories of ecosystem services such as provisioning (e.g. production of food and water); regulating (e.g. control of climate and disease); supporting (e.g. nutrient cycles and crop pollination); cultural (e.g. spiritual and recreational benefits); and preserving, (e.g. protecting against uncertainty by maintaining diversity).
Reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity and ensuring that land use decisions incorporate the comprehensive values of all goods and services granted by biodiversity will play a major role in achieving sustainable progress. Biodiversity plays a critical role in providing sources of revenue security for people. It is particularly important for the economic lifeblood of the rural poor and for regulating local environmental conditions. Functional ecosystems are crucial buffers against dynamic climate features as carbon sinks and filters for water and air pollutants.
The quickening pace of reduced biodiversity may be related to our increasing energy usage. Our growing energy needs cause fundamental changes in species and ecosystems. At the local level, the availability of biomass energy is threatened, at the federal level, energy prices are changing government policies, and internationally, climate change due to fossil fuel usage is reducing species territories and survival rates. Scientists are concerned that there will be deleterious impacts on the proliferation of infectious diseases and the spread of invasive alien species.
Intangible Benefits of Diversity
Biodiversity offers several intangible benefits to human civilization, including cultural identity, spirituality, inspiration, recreation and aesthetic pleasure. Our culture energizes conservation efforts and sustainable usage of biodiversity. In psychological terms, we suffer a loss of humanity and well being as biodiversity declines. The continued loss of biodiversity and the disruption of cultural honor represent obstacles towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs are eight international development goals that 189 United Nations member states and 23 international organizations agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include integrating sustainable development into country policies and programs, reversing loss of environmental resources, reducing poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS and developing a global partnership for development.
We are losing biodiversity because policies and economic systems do not incorporate the values of biodiversity sufficiently in our political and the market systems and current policies are not implemented effectively.
Biodiversity losses, such as ecosystem degradation may be gradual, but may lead to rapid, dramatic declines human health and well being. Modern societies can continue to develop only if market and policy problems are solved. Our collective failures include illogical production subsidies, lack of appreciation of biological resources, failure to factor environmental costs into prices and failure to implement global values locally. In order to lessen biodiversity loss, we need supportive conservation policies, sustainable use and the recognition of the inherent value derived from the wide variety life forms in our biosphere. Policies at local, national and international levels need to be fully implemented.
We must take into account future prospects and ensure that the products and services of biodiversity are managed successfully in order to ensure that future options are available for developed and undeveloped nations alike. Expensive technological alternatives to biodiversity services are available, but long-term benefits may be derived from properly managed ecosystems. Biodiversity loss affects the poor who are directly dependent on local ecosystem services, but who are incapable of paying increased costs.
Private financial benefits of human activities that reduce biodiversity such as the conversion of mangroves to aquaculture are available, however, they may externalize many social and environmental costs. Economic benefits may be less than the foregone societal benefits together with the biodiversity losses. For example, converting mangrove ecosystems to aquaculture is a factor causing reduction of fisheries, timber, reduction of storm protection and higher vulnerability to the impacts of extreme events.
Intrinsic Natural Value of Biodiversity
Biodiversity also has intrinsic natural value, independent from its functions and other benefits to people. Our challenge is to balance cultural, economic, social and environmental values so that biodiversity is conserved and made available for future generations. Biodiversity management and policies impact society broadly and have broad cross-cultural and cross-boundary impact. Trade, transportation, development, security, health care and educational policies impact biodiversity. Discussion regarding genetic resources recommended by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reveals that cost-benefit analysis of biodiversity issues is complex. Stakeholders hold different values for each attribute of biodiversity. We need additional research to obtain a broader understanding of these values and interdisciplinary assessments of biodiversity benefits to people's health, wealth and security.
Relationships among biodiversity and security, agriculture, energy, health and culture reveal the importance of biodiversity to these aspects of human well-being. Biodiversity forms the basis of agriculture and enables the production of foods, both wild and cultivated, for the health and nutrition of everyone. Genetic research offers past, current and future crop and livestock improvements and allows flexibility relative to market demand and adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Wild biodiversity has fundamental significance to one billion people on the globe who live a subsistence lifestyle. Decline of diversity has critical implications for their health, culture and standard of living. Services such as nutrient cycling, soil formation, pest and disease control, flood regulation and pollination are the basis for successful agricultural systems.
Cultural ecosystem services are essential for human well being via maintenance of cultural traditions, cultural identity and spirituality. Among the wide range of benefits from biodiversity, it has enabled production of energy from biomass and fossil fuels. This use of biodiversity has brought broad benefits to many people, but has had significant negative impact on ecosystems due to human-induced climate change and habitat loss. These trade-offs, which are inherent in biodiversity use, are increasingly widespread because there are greater demands for ecosystem services.
People directly utilize a small proportion of biodiversity. It is important to note that agriculture reduces diversity to increase productivity for a specific component of biodiversity. Humans rely indirectly on biodiversity without realizing it. Bacteria and microbes transform waste into usable products, insects pollinate crops and flowers and biologically diverse landscapes provide stimulation and enjoyment around the world. Ecosystem services and the benefits derived from biodiversity are dependent on functioning ecosystems. The quantum of biodiversity required to enable ecosystems to function effectively varies widely. The amount of biodiversity necessary for the sustainable supply of ecosystem services in the present and the future remains indeterminate.
Genetic diversity provides the basis for adaptation and allows living organisms to respond to natural selection and adapt to their environment. Genetics play a critical role in the adaptability of biodiversity to global changes such as climate change or new diseases. Genetics also provide benefits for humans including genetic material necessary for improving yield and disease resistance of crops and for developing medicines and other products.
Over the past two decades, many of the world's most important agricultural crops have lost genetic diversity due to changes in agricultural practices. The continued loss of genetic diversity of crops has important implications for food security. The rate of loss of genetic diversity is not well known, but inferences can be made from known extinctions and population declines which suggest that substantial genetic loss is occurring.
In 2002, parties to the CBD committed to actions to achieve a significant reduction of the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 at global, regional and national levels in order to contribute to alleviation of poverty and to the benefit of global life. This target highlights the need for improved biodiversity parameters that are capable of measuring trends in global biodiversity. It has united the scientific community to develop parameters capable of measuring trends.
A sample of global biodiversity parameters used to measure progress towards the 2010 target measures trends in vertebrate populations, extinction risks for birds, global consumption and the establishment of protected areas. The population and extinction risk indices reveal an accelerating decline in biodiversity and the ecological footprint indicates that consumption is rapidly increasing at unsustainable levels.
These trends suggest that we may not meet the 2010 biodiversity target on a global scale. Although we continue to notice loss of biodiversity, there has been growing designation of land and water areas in protected areas and improved biodiversity management in land and ocean environments. The increases in protected area coverage suggests a favorable, steady trend.
During the past 25 years, the number of protected areas grew by over 20,000 so that there are more than 115,000 currently. On the other hand, the number of protected areas and their coverage may be misleading conservation parameters, particularly in marine areas because their inclusion is often not tracked by effective management and regulatory enforcement. The percentage and degree to which ecosystems are protected varies substantially. Roughly 12 percent of the world's land surface is included within protected areas. However, less than 1 percent of the global marine ecosystems are protected. The Great Barrier Reef and the northwestern Hawaiian islands comprise 1/3 of the total area of marine protected areas.
In addition to ensuring effective protected area management, emphasis will needs to be placed on the conservation of biodiversity outside protected areas in conjunction with other land uses in order to reduce the pace of biodiversity loss. Institution of new policies and processes at all levels, the emphasis on sustainable agricultural practices, collaboration among sectors, including partnerships between conservation organizations and extractive industries and inclusion of biodiversity issues in areas of land use decision-making will contribute to improved biodiversity and for sustainable development.
Over the past 2 decades, environmental issues have been increasingly recognized as important to the global commerce sector. The commitment to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 by the parties to the CBD, the endorsement by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) of the CBD's 2010 target and the incorporation of the 2010 biodiversity target into the Millennium Development Goals set new targets for environmental sustainability. A framework for action was proposed at WSSD to implement sustainable development policies, which covered five key areas (water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity), This "WEHAB" structure provided a focus and confirmed biodiversity as a key factor in the sustainable development plan.
Environmental Trends and ResponsesBiodiversity is linked to work-related security, agriculture, energy, health and culture. Agriculture, food security, energy and health will be critical factors that will create sustainable development.
Biodiversity contributes directly and indirectly to financial support and security. Functional ecosystems offer buffers against climate events and act as carbon sinks and filters for water-borne and airborne pollutants. For instance, the frequency of landslides may be related to vegetation cover because roots play an important role in slope stability and provide mechanical support at shallow soil depth.
Trends in habitat loss and land degradation reduce livelihood options and also increase risks. Changes in land management, particularly the replacement of fire-adapted ecosystems with other forms of land cover, increase the intensity and extent of fires, thereby increasing the hazard to people. Fire-adapted ecosystems are those whose species evolved in close association with fire and developed strategies over the millennia to cope with this natural force. By doing so, they are able to flourish within specific niches in the fire environment.
Land-use change influences climate at local, regional and global scales. Forests, shrub and grasslands, freshwater and coastal ecosystems provide valuable food and income sources. Fish and wild meat provide animal protein, while other forest resources provide dietary supplements. These ecosystem goods are essential safety nets for millions of rural poor. In the past, rights of access and tenure arrangements for these public goods provided equitable distribution of these extractive activities. However, due to increasing population densities and introduction of market based models, access to these common resources has been restricted, thereby altering rural livelihoods. Many wild products can be harvested successful and can contribute to sustaining rural livelihoods.
Ecosystems Reduce Risks
The complex links between biodiversity and economic security are based on the intrinsic relationship between civilization and the environment. Policies that deal with the risks and opportunities arising from major environmental changes require clear focus on ecosystem management, sustainable markets and local risk management. For example, policies relating to management of water resources and mitigation of weather-related hazards reduce disaster risks by enhancing landscape restoration, coastal forest management and local conservation and sustainable use initiatives.
Over the past quarter century, there has been increasing appreciation of the effect of culture on the preservation of biodiversity and creation of sustainable development.
Culture is created by local relationships among people and their environment which gives rise to unique values and practices related to biodiversity. Cultural practices contribute strategies for the sustainable use and management of biodiversity. Diverse cultures have developed globally through a wide variety of responses to different ecosystems and variations in environmental conditions. Cultural diversity is an essential ingredient of the resources available to preserve biodiversity. Cultural diversity is being lessened at the same time as biological diversity is being reduced. For example, in terms of linguistic diversity, 50 per cent of the world's 6,000 languages are currently in danger of extinction and it has been surmised that 75% or more of existing languages may not exist by 2100. Together with the loss of languages, there is the loss of cultural values, innovations and practices.
Civilization is dependent on biodiversity for economic opportunities as well as for cultural identity, spirituality, aesthetic enjoyment and recreation. Biodiversity is the underpinning of material and non-material human security.
Cultures in industrialized countries are somewhat removed from the immediate effect of biodiversity loss. However, humanity is adversely changed by the weakening of ecosystem services. Categories such as the poor, women, children, youth, rural communities and indigenous and tribal peoples are vulnerable to environmental and social change. Tribes constitute the majority of the globe's cultural diversity.
There is significant correlation between the distribution of cultures and biological diversity. There is a relationship between distribution of plant diversity and linguistic diversity. Regions of high biodiversity tend to be areas of more distinctive cultures. Regions in South and Central America, Western Africa, portions of South Asia and the Pacific reveal a pattern of high biocultural diversity.
There is ample evidence of linkages between biodiversity and cultural diversity. Interrelationships between cultures and biodiversity include traditional territories, habitats and resources which affect food security. There are important ecological and societal implications of the increased threats to the world's cultural diversity. Global social and economic change is initiating the loss of biodiversity and disrupting local lifestyles by promoting cultural assimilation and homogeneity. Cultural change may involve loss of cultural and spiritual values, languages, and traditional knowledge and practices. Such cultural changes may cause increasing pressures on biodiversity, such as overharvesting, land-use conversion, overuse of fertilizers, reliance on monocultures that replace wild foods and traditional cultivation and the increase of invasive alien species that displace native species. In turn, these pressures degrade human comfort.
Managing Biological and Cultural Diversity
The importance of culture and cultural diversity to the environment, biological diversity and human wellness has given rise to important policy developments relevant to sustainable development and biodiversity preservation at all levels. The policies and activities of various environmental organizations include a focus on the interrelationships between biodiversity and cultural diversity.
In 2006, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizing that "respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development and proper management of the environment."
National policies have also taken the initiative to strengthen the links between biodiversity and cultures in accord with the CBD. For example, the Indian Biological Diversity Act states that the national government shall protect the knowledge of local people relating to biodiversity. The Act provides that forests protected as sacred groves according to local communities' beliefs may be designated as heritage sites. In Panama, the central government has bestowed sovereignty upon the seven major groups of indigenous peoples in that country. Panama was the first Latin American country to grant this class of rights for its indigenous population and 22 per cent of the national territory has been designated as sovereign indigenous reserves.
Biodiversity preservation outside of protected areas relies on coordinating local participation, knowledge and values in land use planning, including the management of forests, watersheds, wetlands, coastal areas, agricultural lands and grazing lands, fisheries and migratory bird habitats. Successful management typically involves partnerships between local communities and central governments, international and local organizations and the private sector such as ecotourism ventures.
Integrating local and traditional knowledge in policy decisions and hands on action plans link biodiversity and culture by means of social and sector plans and policies. This method develops and strengthens institutions at each level and takes advantage of local knowledge for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. This approach actually improves the retention of traditional knowledge through education, preservation of languages and encourages passing on knowledge through generations.
This approach to biodiversity for sustainable growth maintains the diversity of culturally-based knowledge, practices, beliefs and languages that contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of native biodiversity. This approach to national policy initiatives through local action offers long-term solutions. The policies recognize the detrimental impact to the vulnerable groups in society and increases the input of local and traditional ecological knowledge to policy recommendations. In the future, this will facilitate the maintenance of a sustainable relationship between people and biodiversity.
The Challenge: Appreciation of Biodiversity
Biodiversity loss persists because the benefits of biodiversity have not been given sufficient credit by political and market systems. One problem is that the costs of biodiversity loss are not borne exclusively by those who caused the loss. Because of the global character of biodiversity values, the biodiversity loss may have impact beyond country boundaries. Losses of biodiversity, such as the erosion of genetic variability in a population, are gradual and are typically not noticed until irreversible stages are reached. Prominent problems receive the most policy attention and financial support, so greater attention is paid for compelling animals such as tigers or elephants, than for the smaller, less notorious biodiversity that are key components of our infrastructure and make substantial contributions to a range of ecosystem services.
Most past attempts to calculate the values of biodiversity consider transaction values of the individual components of biodiversity and the price paid for particular goods and services. This approach only covers a portion of the real value of biodiversity and always underestimates the full range of ecosystem functions essential to the delivery of ecosystem services. Moreover, several biodiversity components are unique and irreplaceable, including species extinction and gene loss. Economic valuation should take into account the irreversible changes to biodiversity. Economic valuation of irreversible change should be undertaken to create incentives for conservation, but that approach will not completely conserve biodiversity for future generations. Therefore, it is imperative that traditional conservation programs which protect components of biodiversity from exploitation remain as policy tools to protect the irreplaceable and intangible values of biodiversity.
Our civilization will improve without additional loss of biodiversity if market and policy failures are corrected, including illogical production subsidies, undervaluation of biological resources, failure to internalize environmental costs into values and failure to recognize global values at the local level. Biodiversity change has significant implications for most policy segments. One problem is that biodiversity concerns are seldom given sufficient credit when industrial, health, agricultural, development or security policies are formulated. A culture or economy that depletes biodiversity on a continuing basis is unsustainable. Hence, biodiversity concerns must be prioritized consistently in policy making with the goal of environmental sustainability.
Reducing the rate of biodiversity loss requires multiple and mutually consistent policies of conservation and sustainable use and the recognition of biodiversity values. The ecosystem approach requires new policies involving the integration of landscape and watershed management with sustainable use in order to reduce biodiversity loss. Legal principles such as biodiversity easements and payments for biodiversity services have been constructed in order to create market tools to offer financial resources, and markets for biodiversity-friendly products. Producers have new alternatives to recognize and focus upon the inherent value of biodiversity in order to address biodiversity loss. As policies focus upon biodiversity loss prevention, the changes will cause market and behavioral corrections to encourage cultures to focus upon sustainable living.
New concepts of ownership over biodiversity and genetic resources, protection of traditional knowledge, the ecosystem approach, ecosystem services and valuation, have created policy challenges for the stakeholders. Governments at all levels, communities and businesses are attempting to incorporate environmental, social and cultural concerns in their decision making processes. In order to attain sustainable development, biodiversity must be included in energy, health, security, agricultural, land use, urban and regional planning and development decisions and policies.
Internationally, biodiversity conventions have increased collaboration, and are attempting to link more closely with economic organizations such as World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These processes include strategies and action plans to be implemented nationally.
Private Sector Interventions
Some private businesses have initiated building biodiversity issues into their planning and implementation. However, the majority of businesses must start analyzing and reducing negative impacts of infrastructure development and operations such as processing and transportation on biodiversity. Environmental degradation from industrial pollution or sourcing of wood products should not be simply moved to less regulated regions.
It is essential to create economic incentives and equalizing opportunities to stop environmentally negative cost-shifting behaviors of businesses through new codes of conduct, certification schemes, transparency through triple-bottom line accounting and international regulatory standards. Triple bottom line accounting means expanding the traditional reporting system to take into account environmental and social performance together with financial performance.
Regional organizations, including the European Community, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the South African Development Community (SADC) will play key roles in creating equal opportunities and collaboration across divisions within government is also requisite. Inter-agency coordination is needed to create consistency in international negotiations and to bring biodiversity concerns into national policy development.
It is important to distinguish the multiple values of biodiversity in national policies by implementing new regulatory and market mechanisms. These will include:
A. Policies Benefiting the Poor
It will be necessary to implement policies that benefit the poor and smallholders in our cultures. Biodiversity users and stewards, including smallholders, are key representatives in developing effective implementation mechanisms. Women will play important roles to appreciate, protect and use biodiversity throughout the world. Communities should be empowered to ensure sustainable use of biodiversity and all stakeholders should be given a role in shaping and testing of policies for the long term viability. The international community needs to take advantage of key opportunities for implementing inclusive projects.
B. Conservation Measures
Recent natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes reveal the range of environmental and biodiversity concerns. Features such as coastal mangroves, sea grasses, coastal wetlands and reef systems that protect shorelines from powerful storms must be preserved and restored. Forests that regulate water flow, soil structure and stability must be rejuvenated. Biodiversity policies certainly protect people and infrastructure. Biodiversity and environmental concerns should be recognized in land use planning decisions and in enforcing rules and regulations.
For indigenous communities, biodiversity has always been a local, commonly shared resource upon which they have depended for their means of support. Several countries have passed new intellectual property laws under the GATT/WTO agreements to enclose the commons and place them within a structure of private property and patents for the benefit of businesses and to the detriment of the indigenous peoples. The enclosure of biodiversity is an important step in a sequence of enclosures which emanated from European colonialism. Land and forests were the first resources to be enclosed and converted from commons to commodities. Subsequently, water resources were enclosed through dams, groundwater withdrawal and privatization systems. We are now witnessing biodiversity and scientific knowledge being enclosed through intellectual property rights.