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Biodiversity & Human Well-being

7. Can the 2010 biodiversity targets be met?

    The source document for this Digest states:

    • Biodiversity will continue to decline during this century. While biodiversity makes important contributions to human well-being, many of the actions needed to promote economic development and reduce hunger and poverty are likely to reduce biodiversity. This makes the policy changes necessary to reverse these trends difficult to agree on and implement in the short term.
    • Since biodiversity is essential to human well-being and survival, however, biodiversity loss has to be controlled in the long term. A reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity is a necessary first step. Progress in this regard can be achieved by 2010 for some components, but it is unlikely that it can be achieved for biodiversity overall at the global level by 2010.
    • Many of the necessary actions to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss are already incorporated in the programs of work of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and if fully implemented they would make a substantial difference. Yet even if existing measures are implemented, this would be insufficient to address all the drivers of biodiversity loss.

    In April 2002, the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the target, subsequently endorsed in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to “achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional, and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth” (CBD Decision VI/26). In 2004, the Conference of the Parties adopted a framework for evaluation, including a small number of global 2010 sub-targets, and a set of indicators that will be used in assessing progress (C4.5.2).

    To assess progress toward the target, the Conference of the Parties defines biodiversity loss as the “long-term or permanent qualitative or quantitative reduction in components of biodiversity and their potential to provide goods and services, to be measured at global, regional, and national levels” (CBD Decision VII/30). The objectives of the Convention and the 2010 target are translated into policies and concrete action through the agreement of international guidelines and the implementation of work programs of the Convention and through National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans.

    An unprecedented effort would be necessary to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at global, regional, and national levels. The 2010 target implies that the rate of loss of biodiversity—as indicated by mea­sures of a range of components or attributes—would need to be significantly less in 2010 than the current or recent trends described in Key Question 3 of this report. This is unlikely to be achieved globally for various reasons: current trends show few indications of slowing the rate of loss; most of the direct drivers of biodiversity loss are projected to increase; and inertia in natural and human institutional systems implies lags of years, decades, or even centuries between actions taken and their impact on biodiversity and ecosystems (C4, S7, S10, R5).

    With appropriate responses at global, regional, and especially national level, it is possible to achieve, by 2010, a reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss for certain components of biodiversity or for certain indicators, and in certain regions, and several of the 2010 sub-targets adopted by the CBD could be met. Overall the rate of habitat loss—the main driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial ecosystems—is slowing in certain regions and could slow globally if proactive approaches are taken (S10). This may not necessarily translate into lower rates of species loss, however, because of the nature of the relationship between numbers of species and area of habitat, because decades or centuries may pass before species extinctions reach equilibrium with habitat loss, and because other drivers of loss, such as climate change, nutrient loading, and invasive species, are projected to increase. While rates of habitat loss are decreasing in temperate areas, they are projected to continue to increase in tropical areas (C4, S10).

    At the same time, if areas of particular importance for biodiversity and functioning ecological networks are maintained within protected areas or by other conservation mechanisms, and if proactive measures are taken to protect endangered species, the rate of biodiversity loss of the targeted habitats and species could be reduced. Further, it would be possible to achieve many of the sub-targets aimed at protecting the components of biodiversity if the response options that are already incorporated into the CBD programs of work are implemented. However, it appears highly unlikely that the sub-targets aimed at addressing threats to biodiversity—land use change, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species—could be achieved by 2010. It will also be a major challenge to maintain goods and services from biodiversity to support human well-being (C4, S10, R5). (See Table 6.1)

    Table 6.1. Prospects for Attaining the 2010 Sub-targets Agreed to under the Convention on Biological Diversity

    There is substantial scope for greater protection of biodiversity through actions justified on their economic merits for material or other benefits to human well-being. Conservation of biodiversity is essential as a source of particular biological resources, to maintain different ecosystem services, to maintain the resilience of ecosystems, and to provide options for the future. These benefits that biodiversity provides to people have not been well reflected in decision-making and resource manage­ment, and thus the current rate of loss of biodiversity is higher than what it would be had these benefits been taken into account (R5). (See Figure 6.1)

    However, the total amount of biodiversity that would be conserved based strictly on utilitarian considerations is likely to be less than the amount present today (medium certainty). Even if utilitarian benefits were taken fully into account, planet Earth would still be losing biodiversity, as other utilitarian benefits often “compete” with the benefits of maintaining greater diversity. Many of the steps taken to increase the production of specific ecosystem services require the simplification of natural systems (in agriculture, for example). Moreover, managing ecosystems without taking into account the full range of ecosystem services may not necessarily require the conservation of biodiversity. (For example, a forested watershed could provide clean water and timber whether it was covered by a diverse native forest or a single-species plantation, but a single-species plantation may not provide significant levels of many other services, such as pollination, food, and cultural services.) Ultimately, the level of biodiversity that survives on Earth will be determined to a significant extent by ethical concerns in addition to utilitarian ones (C4, C11, S10, R5).

    Trade-offs between achieving the MDG targets for 2015 and reducing the rate of biodiversity loss are likely. For example, improving rural road networks—a common feature of hunger reduction strategies—will likely accelerate rates of biodiversity loss (directly through habitat fragmentation and indirectly by facilitating unsustainable harvests of bushmeat and so on). Moreover, one of the MA scenarios (Global Orchestration) suggests that future development paths that show relatively good progress toward the MDG of eradicating extreme poverty and improving health also showed relatively high rates of habitat loss and associated loss of species over 50 years. (See Figure 6.2) This does not imply that biodiversity loss is, in itself, good for poverty and hunger reduction. Instead, it indicates that many economic development activities aimed at poverty reduction are likely to have negative impacts on biodiversity unless the value of biodiversity and related ecosystem services are factored in (S10, R19).

    In fact, some short-term improvements in material welfare and livelihoods due to actions that lead to the loss of biodiversity that is particularly important to the poor and vulnerable may actually make these gains temporary—and may in fact exacerbate all constituents of poverty in the long term. To avoid this, efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity need to be integrated into countries’ strategies for poverty reduction (S10, R5).

    But there are potential synergies as well as trade-offs between the short-term MDG targets for 2015 and reducing the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010. For a reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss to contribute to poverty alleviation, priority would need to be given to protecting the biodiversity of particular importance to the well-being of poor and vulnerable people. Given that biodiversity underpins the provision of ecosystem services that are vital to human well-being, long-term sustainable achievement of the Millennium Development Goals requires that biodiversity loss is reduced controlled as part of MDG 7 (ensuring environmental sustainability).

    Given the characteristic response times for human systems (political, social, and economic) and ecological systems, longer-term goals and targets—say, for 2050—are needed in addition to short-term targets to guide policy and actions. Biodiversity loss is projected to continue for the foreseeable future (S10). The indirect drivers of biodiversity loss are related to economic, demographic, sociopolitical, cultural, and technological factors. Consumption of ecosystem services and of energy and nonrenewable resources has an impact, directly and indirectly, on biodiversity and ecosystems. Total consumption is a factor of per capita consumption, population, and efficiency of natural resource use. Halting biodiversity loss (or reducing it to a minimal level) requires that the combined effect of these factors in driving biodiversity loss be reduced (C4, S7).

    Differences in the inertia of different drivers of biodiversity change and different attributes of biodiversity itself make it difficult to set targets or goals over a single time frame. For some drivers, such as the overharvesting of particular species, lag times are rather short; for others, such as nutrient loading and, especially, climate change, lag times are much longer. Addressing the indirect drivers of change may also require somewhat longer time horizons given political, socioeconomic, and demographic inertias. Population is projected to stabilize around the middle of the century and then decrease. Attention also needs to be given to addressing unsustainable consumption patterns. At the same time, while actions can be taken to reduce the drivers and their impacts on biodiversity, some change is inevitable, and adaptation to such change will become an increasingly important component of response measures (C4.5.2, S7, R5).

    The world in 2100 could have substantial remaining biodiversity or could be relatively homogenized and contain relatively low levels of diversity. Sites that are globally important for biodiversity could be protected while locally or nationally important biodiversity is lost. Science can help to inform the costs and benefits of these different futures and identify paths to achieve them, along with the risks and the thresholds. Where there is insufficient information to predict the consequences of alternative actions, science can identify the range of possible outcome. Science can thus help ensure that social decisions are made with the best available information. But ultimately the choice of biodiversity futures must be determined by society.

    Source & ©: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
     Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis (2005),
    Chapter 5, p.77


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