Conserving biodiversity: An epic failure

In 2002, states at the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. The target was, according to the recently published third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook report, totally missed.

The 96-page report highlights the 21 sub-targets of the agreement, showing that none were achieved globally, and that instead pressures on biodiversity have in many instances increased.


“There are multiple indications of continuing decline in biodiversity in all three of its main components —genes, species and ecosystems,” the report states.


The eight-year period comprising the 2010 target has also seen species on average moving closer to extinction, with amphibians facing the greatest risk and coral species climbing quickest towards increased risks of extinction. The principle pressures directly affecting biodiversity–pollution, invasive species, climate change, habitat change and over-exploitation–have either remained constant or intensified over the same time period.


On the plus side, the report says that the target has inspired some 170 countries to adopt national biodiversity action plans. There’s also been a significant increase in the number of protected areas, though some of the most critical sites still lie outside of the protectorates, which now amount to more than 12 percent of the Earth’s surface.


Still, positive developments remain, such as the likelihood that at least 31 bird species–out of 9800–would have been lost to extinction over the last century if not for conservation efforts.


On the other hand, the report emphasizes that activities aimed at sustaining biodiversity still receive a tiny fraction of the funding allocated for infrastructure and industrial developments.


Egypt received little mention in the report, except to note the marked increase in the number of environmental impact assessments published here since 1998. During that year, fewer than ten impact assessments were conducted, but the number rose to nearly 300 by 2008. It remains unclear to what degree these assessments are adhered to. Nevertheless, the increase is said to mirror a similar global trend.


Ultimately, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 acts as a call to reprioritize biodiversity in policy making. “Conserving biodiversity cannot be an afterthought once other objectives are addressed – it is the foundation on which many of these objectives are built,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote in a forward to the report. 


The report ends with a thought-provoking perspective, saying that in 2008-2009 world governments quickly conjured hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent the collapse of the world financial system. Now, the warnings of the collapse of the world’s ecosystems are clear.


It concludes: “For a fraction of the money summoned up instantly to avoid economic meltdown, we can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems.”

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