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Biodiversity A Global Outlook

7. To what extent are ecosystems used sustainably?

  • 7.1 What proportion of ecosystems are managed sustainably?
  • 7.2 How is our ecological footprint changing?

7.1 What proportion of ecosystems are managed sustainably?

The source document for this Digest states:

FOCAL AREA | Promoting sustainable use of biodiversity

One of the most important ways of trying to maintain ecosystem goods and services for future generations is to ensure that components of biodiversity are used sustainably. The focal area on sustainable use, corresponding to the second objective of the Convention, assesses harvesting and consumption pressure in systems where the primary purpose is production, be it for forest resources, agriculture (including horticulture), grazing, or fisheries (including aquaculture and mariculture). Clearly, there is an overlap between the concepts of conservation and sustainable use, because production and harvesting take place in almost all ecosystems, including in many areas in which conservation is the primary management objective. Accordingly, some indicator of ecosystem integrity, in particular the Marine Trophic Index, are also good indicators of sustainable use.

Assessing whether a resource is being used sustainably or unsustainably requires consideration of a number of factors, including the status of the resource in question, the impact of use on the ecosystem of which that resource is a part, and the socio-economic context of the resource use. Such analyses may be carried out reasonably easily in simple systems, such as a few high-latitude fisheries or low-diversity boreal forests, but are much more difficult in more complex systems, such as tropical forests or most tropical and subtropical capture fisheries.

HEADLINE INDICATOR Area of forest, agricultural and aquaculture ecosystems under sustainable management

One of the headline indicators for assessing the sustainability of human use of biodiversity focuses on the proportion of area of forest, agricultural and aquaculture ecosystems under sustainable management. Global figures for such an indicator are currently not available. In 2000, however, 93 countries provided figures to the FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment about the area under forest management plans, with the percentage of the total forest area per country ranging from 0.1 to 100%.

Another possible measure for assessing sustainable use corresponds to the proportion of production lands that have been certified as meeting certain criteria for sustainability. Such measures, however, are far from comprehensive. Forest areas certified for their sustainable management and recognized organic agricultural systems probably represent only a small proportion of the total area under production systems that, intentionally or unintentionally, meet such standards. Under the Forest Stewardship Council, for example, merely 1.5% of global forest cover is currently certified. Certification provides information about market demand and a measure of the degree of awareness about sustainable production but does not allow comprehensive statements about trends in sustainable use. Therefore, although figures on certified area and products show positive trends, these should not be interpreted as progress on sustainable use in general.

Source & ©: CBD  Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 (2006),
Chapter 2: The 2010 Biodiversity Target: Establishing current trends, p.36-37

7.2 How is our ecological footprint changing?

The source document for this Digest states:

HEADLINE INDICATOR Ecological footprint and related concepts

The ecological footprint is a widely known concept that aims to communicate unsustainable consumption. Using published statistics, it calculates the area of land and water needed to sustain a defined human population at a set material standard, based on the population’s use of energy, food, water, building material and other consumables. Although the concept does not provide a comprehensive assessment of demands on nature, it is a useful accounting tool whose purpose is to demonstrate the effect of human consumption on the productive capacity of the Earth.

The Ecological Footprint has been calculated globally on the basis of United Nations statistics and other well-established data. Figure 2.18 shows the ratio between humanity’s demand and the Earth’s productive capacity, or biocapacity, in each year, and how this ratio has changed over time. Humanity has moved from using, in net terms, about half the planet’s biocapacity in 1961 to 1.2 times the biocapacity of the Earth in 2001. The global demand for resources thus exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth to renew these resources by some 20%—in other words, it takes the biosphere one year and nearly three months to renew what humanity uses in one year. This “ecological deficit” or “overshoot” means ecosystem assets are being liquidated and wastes are accumulating in the biosphere, and the potential for future biocapacity is reduced. Overshoot is possible because, for example, forests can be cut faster than they grow, fish can be harvested faster than their natural replacement rate, water can be withdrawn faster than aquifers are replenished, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted faster than it is sequestered.

Currently, two-thirds of the global ecological footprint is caused by the United States, members of the European Union, China, India and Japan. However, the per capita footprint is much greater in developed countries that in developing countries, including China and India. Figure 2.19 shows the global distribution of Ecological Footprint intensity.

To reduce biodiversity loss associated with the overuse of ecological services, humanity would need to reduce its ecological footprint by 2010. In the long run, humanity’s footprint needs to be significantly lower than global biocapacity, in order to provide a biodiversity buffer.

Source & ©: CBD  Global Biodiversity Outlook 2 (2006),
Chapter 2: The 2010 Biodiversity Target: Establishing current trends, p.37-38

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