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Fresh policies can help slow biodiversity loss

Our planet's biodiversity is taking a big hit, but new research points to a potential slowing down of its decline if budding policies are in fact implemented. The latest analysis, which combines several major international studies of future species shifts and losses, comes und...

Our planet's biodiversity is taking a big hit, but new research points to a potential slowing down of its decline if budding policies are in fact implemented. The latest analysis, which combines several major international studies of future species shifts and losses, comes under the auspices of the EU-backed global biodiversity science programme DIVERSITAS, the UNEP-WCMC (United Nations Environment Programme- World Conservation Monitoring Centre) and the Secretariat of the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity). The analysis is presented in the journal Science. Comparing the results of 5 recent global environmental assessments and an extensive range of peer-reviewed literature and probing what could possibly happen to biodiversity in the future, the 23-strong team of scientists from 9 countries discovered key changes are needed in society to ensure stability and sustainability. The bottom line is that failure to introduce and implement changes can raise the risk of extinctions, trigger population declines for various species, and shift the distribution of species. 'There is no question that business-as-usual development pathways will lead to catastrophic biodiversity loss,' highlights Dr Paul Leadley of the University Paris-Sud in France. 'Even optimistic scenarios for this century consistently predict extinctions and shrinking populations of many species.' While the objective to stop biodiversity loss within the next decade 'sounds good' it is not realistic, he says. Dr Leadley goes on to point out that 'significant opportunities to intervene through better policies, such as those aimed at mitigating climate change without massive conversion of forests to biofuel plantations', can work together with steps to safeguard biodiversity, effectively offering us hope that slowing biodiversity loss is not just a pipe dream. Time is of the essence, however. The scientific team, led by Dr Leadley and Dr Henrique Miguel Pereira from the Centro de Biologia Ambiental, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa in Portugal, says action must be taken quickly, in particular because differences in policy action taken now could either trigger a 15% rise in global forest cover - which would be the best case scenario - or losses of more than 10% in the worst case by 2030. Establishing a mechanism for biodiversity, similar to the existing Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that assesses the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for raising awareness on the risk of human-induced climate change, is 'extremely important', the experts believe. This 'Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services' (IPBES) would help ensure commonly-agreed definitions and indicators for biodiversity and inform decision-making. 'The issues are so urgent and the stakes for humanity so important, scientists need to coalesce through the IPBES to inform policymakers with a unified, authoritative voice,' Dr Pereira underlines. The IPBES could be instrumental in organising scientific cooperation to ease concerns related to biodiversity scenarios, according to the team. Models forecast rates of extinction ranging from less than 1% per century to more than 50%. Consensus is very important when defining the length of time involved in species' extinction, say the experts, noting that it could be anywhere between decades or millennia. 'Considerable uncertainty in models and substantial disagreement within the scientific community concerning the likelihood of massive extinctions over the coming century' would be the result, they add. Greater attention should be paid to changes in species distributions and population sizes, the scientists stress, as the well-being of humans depends on this. 'Future extinctions risks are projected to be high, but the biodiversity crisis is much more than extinctions,' Dr Pereira explains. 'Much of what will happen to biodiversity in [the] 21st century is not global extinctions, but major changes in the abundance of species and the composition of communities.' Scientists from Canada, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, the UK and the US provided key support in the analysis.

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Canada, France, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa

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