Biodiversity decline – Are we heading towards the forever silent spring?

Umwelt, Energie & Verkehr

Global biodiversity is in rapid decline and efforts to halt this development are highly insufficient. This November states are gathering for the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The main priority of this year’s conference is to mainstream biodiversity into economic sectors and to mobilise financial resources for biodiversity conservation.

Think back to the first warm evening in spring: You’re sitting in the garden, the sun is just about to set, candles are lit on the table and there’s some tiramisu left on one of the plates. Now try to remember the sounds: How many insects are humming around? Do you hear birds singing? It seems to us that is has become much more quiet during the past 10 years.

This personal feeling is supported by an ever-increasing amount of studies reporting strong declines in biodiversity over the past decades. Animal populations have decreased by 60% between 1970 and 2014, connected to an equally rapid deterioration of natural habitats. Aggregated over time humans have wiped out 83% of animal and 50% of plant populations since the dawn of civilization, commonly referred to as the «sixth mass extinction».

Helpless action on the multilateral level

It is under these circumstances that states meet from November 17 to 29 in Sharm El Sheikh to advance the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Similar to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), almost all countries of the world have ratified the Convention. Measurable targets to tackle biodiversity loss have been agreed upon, the so-called Aichi Biodiversity-Targets, adopted in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan. So far, however, the implementation of these targets is highly insufficient. In Switzerland it took 7 years until the government finally came up with the required action plan on how to actually implement the targets, despite biodiversity being in a dire state also in Switzerland.

Not conducive for the implementation is that the loss of biodiversity is hardly present in the public debate. This is worrying, given that biodiversity loss is at least as serious as climate change, if not more. Our survival directly depends on the myriad of ecosystem and their functions. In fact, climate change and biodiversity receive too little attention relative to their prominent positions as Top 10 risks in the 2018 WEF Global Risk report. Yet while the 1.5°C target with respect to climate change is (finally) broadly accepted, biodiversity loss is less well-understood and its protection targets are much more diverse.

Lack of a business case

Last but not least, there is not yet a business case for stopping biodiversity loss. Industries have realized the economic potential of technologies with respect to renewable energy production, energy efficiency measures and smart buildings. Green growth has become a major objective for countries and climate finance is increasingly considered as an investment opportunity. But how to explain people not to dig for gold because the forest above would be destroyed? In fact, ecosystem services supported by biodiversity are valued between 125 and 145 trillion USD per year, while the value of all the gold ever mined is only about 7 trillion USD. Despite these numbers, local communities and regional state levels usually pay the price of biodiversity decay. Biodiversity conservation is ignored by current short-term decision-making in business and politics.

Accordingly, this year’s CBD COP14 targets at “mainstreaming biodiversity”. The fundamental questions are how to better involve the private sector and how to mobilize funds for biodiversity conservation. Shall the rich start paying the poor for trees instead of gold?

To contribute ideas on how to reverse biodiversity decline, foraus used the crowd-sourcing tool Policy Kitchen. 140 people contributed 43 ideas over the course of six weeks and you can now select the best suggestions. Cast your vote on until the 21st of November!

Image: Knut-Erik Helle on flickr