Nairobi, 10 May 2010 - Natural systems that support economies, lives and livelihoods across the planet are at risk of rapid degradation and collapse unless there is swift, radical and creative action to conserve and sustainably use the variety of life on Earth.
This is one principal conclusion of a major new assessment of the current state of biodiversity and the implications of its continued loss for human well-being.
The third edition of Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3), produced by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), confirms that the world has failed to meet its target to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.
The report is based on scientific assessments, national reports submitted by governments and a study on future scenarios for biodiversity. Subject to an extensive independent scientific review process, the publication of GBO-3 is one of the principal milestones of the UN's International Year of Biodiversity.
The Outlook will be a key input into discussions by world leaders and Heads of State at a special high level segment of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September. Its conclusions will also be central to the negotiations by world governments at the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit in October.
The Outlook warns that massive further loss of biodiversity is becoming increasingly likely, and with it, a severe reduction of many essential services to human societies as several "tipping points" are approached, in which ecosystems shift to alternative, less productive states from which it may be difficult or impossible to recover.
Potential tipping points analyzed for GBO-3 include:
- The dieback of large areas of the Amazon forest, due to the interactions of climate change, deforestation and fires, with consequences for the global climate, regional rainfall and widespread species extinctions.
- The shift of many freshwater lakes and other inland water bodies to eutrophic or algae-dominated states, caused by the buildup of nutrients and leading to widespread fish kills and loss of recreational amenities.
- Multiple collapses of coral reef ecosystems, due to a combination of ocean acidification, warmer water leading to bleaching, overfishing and nutrient pollution; and threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of species directly dependent on coral reef resources.
The Outlook argues, however, that such outcomes are avoidable if effective and coordinated action is taken to reduce the multiple pressures being imposed on biodiversity. For example, urgent action is needed to reduce land-based pollution and destructive fishing practices that weaken coral reefs, and make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.
The document notes that the linked challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change must be addressed by policymakers with equal priority and in close co-ordination, if the most severe impacts of each are to be avoided. Conserving biodiversity and the ecosystems it underpins can help to store more carbon, reducing further build-up of greenhouse gases; and people will be better able to adapt to unavoidable climate change if ecosystems are made more resilient with the easing of other pressures.
The Outlook outlines a possible new strategy for reducing biodiversity loss, learning the lessons from the failure to meet the 2010 target. It includes addressing the underlying causes or indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such as patterns of consumption, the impacts of increased trade and demographic change. Ending harmful subsidies would also be an important step.
GBO-3 concludes that we can no longer see the continued loss of biodiversity as an issue separate from the core concerns of society. Realizing objectives such as tackling poverty and improving the health, wealth and security of present and future generations will be greatly strengthened if we finally give biodiversity the priority it deserves.
The Outlook points out that for a fraction of the money summoned up instantly by the world's governments in 2008-9 to avoid economic meltdown, we can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth's life support systems.
In his foreword to GBO-3, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes: "To tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss, we must give it higher priority in all areas of decision-making and in all economic sectors."
"As this third Global Biodiversity Outlook makes clear, conserving biodiversity cannot be an afterthought once other objectives are addressed - it is the foundation on which many of these objectives are built."
"We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind."
UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, adds that there have been key economic reasons why the 2010 biodiversity targets were not met.
"Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere," observes Mr. Steiner.
"Many countries are beginning to factor natural capital into some areas of economic and social life with important returns, but this needs rapid and sustained scaling-up."
"Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050."
The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ahmed Djoghlaf, says: "The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history - extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate."