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Lowered biodiversity a threat to humans (McGill University/CBD Press Release)

Earth’s species – their variety and numbers – are declining faster than ever, which is a threat to the well-being of future generations of humans. The culprit for the decline in biodiversity are people themselves, according to a new study presented at McGill University to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 19.

The study, Ecosystems and Human Well-being: the Biodiversity Synthesis Report, was prepared by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) with the cooperation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The report, the largest of its kind ever conducted, is the result of five years of collaboration between 1360 natural and social scientists from 95 countries.

The study warns that harm to our ecosystems over the last 50 years will put the well-being of future generations at risk if current patterns of biodiversity loss continue. The report indicates that declines in biodiversity can be addressed only if societies make a concerted and coordinated effort to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity, as well as set long-term policy goals and targets.

Key findings of the study indicate that:

  • Changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history.
  • Humans have increased species extinction rates by as much as 1,000 times over background rates of extinction. [*]
  • Some 12 percent of birds; 23 percent of mammals; 25 percent of conifers and 32 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction.
  • The world’s fish stocks have been reduced by an astonishing 90 percent since the start of industrial fishing.

“In order to maintain and enhance the services we receive from nature, we are faced with major challenges,” indicated Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, one of the co-chairs of the biodiversity synthesis and director of Economic Policy at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (Winnipeg). “We will need to make sure that we don’t disrupt the biological web to the point where collapse of the whole system becomes irreversible. And we must find more equitable ways of sharing ecosystem services.”

The report also addresses the following:

  • Changes in biodiversity – habitat conversion, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources and a rise in alien invasive species – are constant and in some cases increasing in intensity.
  • Capitalizing on biological diversity may have allowed for improvements in human well-being, but at the cost of the degradation of ecosystem services, leading to the exacerbation of poverty for many people.
  • It is possible to conserve biological diversity and reduce poverty if governments design their policies with the sustainable use of biological diversity as a primary goal.
  • To achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the CBD’s 2010 biodiversity target of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss will require tradeoffs. If actors coordinate their implementation strategies these tradeoffs can be minimized. 
  • To attain the 2010 biodiversity target of a substantial reduction in the rate of loss of biological diversity, will require an unprecedented effort. Modest goals are still possible if actors take the necessary steps now.                 

“Loss of biodiversity is a major barrier poses increasing risks for future generations,” said Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Assessment. “The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report shows that management tools, policies and technologies do exist to dramatically slow this loss.”

“This is quite literally a pivotal moment in the history of our planet," said Jacques Hurtubise, McGill University interim vice-principal (Research). "Our Institution is well-placed and proud to be playing a role in the report and ensuing discussions, through its expert teaching and research in many disciplines, and in particular through the McGill School of the Environment.”

Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the report is of great value to all those concerned with the Convention on Biological Diversity and its objectives – the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the equitable sharing of its benefits.

“The report’s findings remind us that biodiversity is a requirement for all life on the planet – it is life insurance for our changing world,” he said. “The report reminds us of the need for action now” 

“I encourage all parties to the Convention to consider the report at the upcoming eleventh meeting of our scientific advisory body – SBSTTA - and prepare recommendations concerning its implications for the future work of the Convention, including the 2010 biodiversity target,” Zedan added.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (www.biodiv.org) is the most broadly-subscribed international environmental treaty in the world.  Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio DeJaneiro Brazil in 1992, it currently has 187 state Parties and the European Community who have committed themselves to its three main goals:  the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The Secretariat is located in Montreal, Canada.

The Millennium Ecosystem Biodiversity synthesis is the second in a series of seven syntheses and summary reports and four technical volumes that assess the state of global ecosystems and the impact on human well-being. The four-year assessment is recognized by governments as a mechanism to meet part of the assessment needs of a number of international environmental treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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[*] An error existed in this sentence in the original press release and has been corrected here.

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