Leading article: The outlook is as bleak as ever

Share
Related Topics

Public concern about climate change has rather eclipsed concerns about biodiversity loss in recent years – and for obvious reasons. But the two challenges are intimately connected. As reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have made clear, one of the malign impacts of a warmer world will be the accelerated extinction of plant and animal species. So the timing of the next fortnight's United Nations biodiversity convention in Japan – and the spotlight it will throw on the destruction of a swath of natural life on the planet – has to be welcome.

Whether the summit will achieve anything more substantial, however, is doubtful. Ever since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the United Nations has been trying to galvanise governments into action to protect biodiversity, but to little avail. A UN world summit on biodiversity in 2002 set a clear target of reducing the rate of global biodiversity loss by 2010. But that target has been comprehensively missed. The UN's recent Global Biodiversity Outlook report indicated that, despite some progress in a few regions, the overall trend was still downwards. The earth is losing species at a rate of more than 1,000 times the historical average. A fifth of the ocean's coral reefs have been destroyed. And tropical rainforests are still being cut down at an alarming speed in Africa and South America. The outlook in 2010 is as bleak as ever.

A new approach is needed, one which recognises the human roots of this phenomenon. There is a clear conflict between economic development and biodiversity preservation. Millions of hectares of rainforests have been cleared for cattle farming in Brazil, for logging in the Congo and to make room for palm oil plantations in Indonesia. These clearances are having catastrophic consequences for the animals that live in these habitats, from the orang-utans of Borneo, to the poison dart frogs of South America.

Developing nations need much stronger incentives to regard their biodiversity as wealth to be preserved, rather than a resource to be processed in the pursuit of growth. This is where the climate change agenda needs to reinforce the biodiversity agenda. Fiscal transfers need to be made from wealthier nations to developing nations that preserve their forests. Forests are crucial because they are not only absorbers of carbon emissions but are also the home of much of the planet's biodiversity. These fiscal transfers should be partially funded by a carbon tax in the rich world.

A recent UN study put a financial estimate on the annual economic damage being done to the natural world. For 2008 they put the cost at £1.3 trillion. Whether one accepts that precise figure or not (and there is no simple way of measuring such costs) it is clear that mankind has an economic interest in preventing further degradation of our biosphere.

But fiscal transfers to developing nations are not sufficient in themselves. There needs to be a greater understanding in all nations, developed and developing alike, of the reality that flourishing biodiversity is not only a good in itself, but is crucial for all future human economic development. From our reliance on wild fish stocks for food, to the bees that pollinate our crops, to the coral reefs that protect coastal communities from flooding, to the forests that create the rain that nourishes our farm land, we depend on the natural world to a much more significant degree than most of us realise.

We also need to recognise that the resources of our biosphere are finite and that without careful stewarding, we will lose them altogether. International co-operation on biodiversity and climate change can help – but without a revolution in human attitudes to the natural world the outlook will remain bleak.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum