Losses of biodiversity "have increasingly dangerous consequences for human well-being, even survival for some societies," according to a summary of a 90-nation UN backed conference in Norway from February 1-5.
The United Nations says that the world is facing the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, driven by a rising human population and spinoffs such as pollution, expanding cities and global warming.
Damage to coral reefs in the tropics, creeping desertification in Africa or felling of the Amazon rainforest were among threats to wildlife and so to human livelihoods.
"Many more economic sectors than we realize depend on biodiversity," the co-chairs of the conference said in their summary.
Apart from food production, less obvious sectors such as tourism, medicines or energy production with biofuels all depended upon nature and diversity of species.
But this is not all. Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, says human activities has "raised the pace of extinctions to 100-1,000 times the background rate over the Earth's history." In other words, we are losing plants and animal species at such a fast rate that many of them cannot survive in the future. How does this work? Well, once you are down to a very small population, say of wolfs, they start to inbreed and that causes all kinds of troubles such as disease and loss of natural instinct. Incest is never a good survival strategy. All animals need a certain population to survive, and if you cross that line, the population cannot manage. The same is true for food crops, and for our farm animals: cattle, pigs, chicken. We need a certain level of biological diversity within each species to ensure that they can propagate properly now, and in the future.
BBC notes that "as natural systems such as forests and wetlands disappear, humanity loses the services they currently provide for free. These include purification of air and water, protection from extreme weather events, and the provision of materials for shelter and fire. With species extinctions running at about 1,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate, some biologists contend that we are in the middle of the Earth's sixth great extinction - the previous five stemming from natural events such as asteroid impacts."
BBC: World's biodiversity 'crisis' needs action, says UN
The same is true for fish. Japan is in the news recently, not only with regards to whaling, but also for its appetite for tuna. Notes the New York Times:
The hunting of highly valued animals into oblivion is a symptom of human foolishness that many consign to the unenlightened past, like the 19th century, when bird species were wiped out for feathered hats and bison were decimated for sport. But the slaughter of the giant bluefin tuna is happening now.
NYT: The Bluefin Slaughter
Japan recently responded that the country would simply "ignore" any attempt at banning the sale of tuna. But, according to the WWF, "Japan's huge appetite for tuna will take the most sought-after stocks to the brink of commercial extinction unless fisheries agree on more rigid quotas." When there is no more bluefin tuna to buy, it is too late for Japan to start trying to save it. Cites, the international convention that deals with extinction issues, is very concerned:
"In our opinion, international commercial trade in bluefin tuna should be prohibited," said David Morgan, head of the Cites scientific unit.
The Guardian: Bluefin tuna international trade ban proposal backed by UN agency
And of course this also applies to the dugong in Okinawa. Read more over at Ten Thousand Things and sign the petition.
Back to Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and his amazing research about the state of our planet. Last year, he published a large study in Nature about resilience and our planet's "boundaries." The study points out that three of nine interlinked planetary boundaries have already been overstepped - and one of them is biological diversity. While we have enjoyed a long period of stability — known to geologists as the Holocene — we have seen human civilizations arise, develop and thrive. But the recent period has seen such turbulence and change due to human intervention, that a stable global situation may be about the end.
To avoid catastrophic environmental change humanity must stay within defined 'planetary boundaries' for a range of essential Earth-system processes, argue Johan Rockström and his co-authors in a Nature Feature. If one boundary is transgressed, then safe levels for other processes could also be under serious risk, they caution. Seven expert commentaries respond to this proposal in Nature Reports Climate Change. Join the debate and listen to the podcast.
Nature: Planetary Boundaries
I don't think Rockström's research or way of thinking is very well known in Japan, but actually, even Time Magazine seems alarmed enough to mention the study for its American readers:
In three of the nine cases Rockstrom has pointed out, however — climate change, the nitrogen cycle and species loss — we've already passed his threshold limits. In the case of global warming, we haven't yet felt the full effects, Rockstrom says, because carbon acts gradually on the climate — but once warming starts, it may prove hard to stop unless we reduce emissions sharply. Ditto for the nitrogen cycle, where industrialized agriculture already has humanity pouring more chemicals into the land and oceans than the planet can process, and for wildlife loss, where we risk biological collapse. "We can say with some confidence that Earth cannot sustain the current rate of loss without significant erosion of ecosystem resilience," says Rockstrom.
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1925718,00.html#ixzz0gA9iaOwH
I have to mention the seminar about biological diversity and sustainability, to be held at IR3S, Tokyo University, on February 27, 2010, with the usual suspects (including Carl Folke at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Jane Smart from IUCN, Anne McDonald at UN University and Japanese experts, including Keisuke Hanaki, Junichi Hamada and Daizaburo Kuroda, see list of speakers here).
One thing would be to make sure that these issues are made more simple (without so many abbreviations - and less katakana) so that Japanese media and the public can understand what is at stake. I don't think Japanese journalists are idiots, but they do seem to have a huge problem with understanding how to write well about global issues. We also need to make the issue of biological diversity better known at the local level, to help local communities get legal rules to be able to fight against the destruction of their fields and forests. I have previously noted that the Satoyama Initiative is a step in the right direction*. Also, like Thomas Elmqvist of the Stockholm Resilience Centre says, we need to better integrate climate change and biodiversity:
Now is the time for connection between UN conventions to be made and to bring biodiversity meaningfully into the discussion on climate change, Elmqvist said at an open session hosted by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiative (ICLEI).
Roadmap on biodiversity: ICLEI announced its intent to launch a new initiative global mobilisation activity called the Local Government Biodiversity Roadmap that will advocate for the adoption of a comprehensive Plan of Action for Local Biodiversity Action at the UN CBD COP10 set to take place in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.
* The recent Paris Declaration on the Satoyama Initiative notes that the economic aspects of biodiversity loss must be urgently dealt with:
Some socio-ecological production landscapes have been abandoned as a result of rural depopulation and ageing populations, while others are increasingly threatened in many parts of the world due to various pressures such as unplanned urbanization, industrialization and increase in population/resource demand. The loss or degradation of these landscapes leads inevitably to a decline in the various ecosystem services that they provide, with serious consequences for the local or broader communities that rely on them...
Paris Declaration on the Satoyama Initiative (pdf)