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Time for action on biodiversity

Despite ever greater efforts to protect biodiversity, this precious resource continues to decline. Now a group of scientists and conservationists warns that to reverse this troubling trend, society must urgently rethink its attitudes to biodiversity and change its behaviour ac...

Despite ever greater efforts to protect biodiversity, this precious resource continues to decline. Now a group of scientists and conservationists warns that to reverse this troubling trend, society must urgently rethink its attitudes to biodiversity and change its behaviour accordingly. The team hopes its message will be heeded by world leaders when they attend the forthcoming 65th session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, which will be devoted to the subject of biodiversity. In addition, the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to take place this autumn. Writing in the journal Science, the group argues that biodiversity should be more widely recognised as a global public good. They point out that biodiversity provides us with a wealth of goods and services including food, timber, fibre and medicines as well as climate regulation, flood control, nutrient cycling, pollination, and recreation. In fact, the TEEB ('The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity') initiative, which is partly supported by the European Commission, has estimated that the economic benefits of biodiversity may be between 10 and 100 times the cost of maintaining biodiverse natural ecosystems. Recent decades have seen a rapid rise in conservation efforts worldwide, and there have been some notable successes. However, biodiversity is increasingly threatened on multiple fronts. Overexploitation, invasive species, pollution, climate change, habitat destruction and the over-abstraction of water are all placing biodiversity under pressure. Consequently, the number of species at risk of extinction is on the up; currently 12% of all known birds, 21% of known mammals and 30% of known amphibians as well as 25% of known plants are under threat. In addition, there are many groups, such as microbes and invertebrates, where we simply lack data on the conservation status of different species and their role in ecosystems. As the authors note, one problem facing conservationists and policymakers is that 'the impacts of a particular action are often distant in space and time. This makes effective regulation difficult, as no single body has jurisdiction over the world's biodiversity'. According to the team, biodiversity must be recognised and managed as a global public good, and policies must be set up that reward positive individual actions and penalise harmful behaviour. Economists and conservationists should work closely together to develop incentives to promote biodiversity-friendly behaviour, the researchers recommend. The team urges governments, businesses and civil society to integrate biodiversity into all aspects of social, economic and political decision making. 'For government, maintenance of stocks of natural capital must become an explicit, accountable, and implemented element of policy,' the researchers write. Crucially, biodiversity protection must be addressed in all areas of government, particularly for policy areas such as agriculture, transport and energy which often have the greatest impact on biodiversity but currently fall outside the remit of most environmental regulators. Also key to biodiversity protection is greater support for developing countries, many of which are rich in biodiversity. 'Valuing biodiversity is vital to changing the way we view this important resource,' emphasised lead author of the paper Dr Mike Rands, Director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative in the UK. 'Because we have received the benefits of biodiversity for free, we take it for granted. The costs of conserving biodiversity are massively outweighed by the benefits. As the United Nations General Assembly meets for a special session to discuss biodiversity, this is an especially timely and important message for world leaders to take on board.' Meanwhile, speaking at a conference in Ghent, Belgium, organised by the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council, EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik addressed many of the issues highlighted in the Science paper. He described the forthcoming reforms of the EU's agriculture and fisheries policies as 'once in a lifetime opportunities' to better integrate biodiversity concerns into these huge policy areas. 'Whereas a few years ago, such an idea would probably have been unthinkable, today it is both realistic and achievable. So what has changed?' the Commissioner asked. 'I think the most fundamental change is the growing recognition that biodiversity is not just about protecting species; it is also about ensuring nature's capacity to deliver goods and services that we all need: farmers, fishermen, ... you and I.'

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