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BIODIVERSITY: A Year for Limited Optimism

Analysis by Julio Godoy* - IPS/IFEJ

BERLIN, Dec 29 2010 (IPS) - Nearly 12 months ago, when the U.N. heralded 2010 as the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’, unrealistic goals seemed to indicate failure for the ambitious initiative. But now that the year is drawing to a close, some experts also see the year’s progress as encouraging, and a reason for optimism.

The January 2010 inauguration of the ‘International Year of Biodiversity’ (IYB) was met with scepticism by the international community, which noted that the European Union (EU) target of halting regional decimation of species by December – formulated in 2003 – was unrealistic.

And yet leading German environmental and biology experts are labelling IYB a success. “The very fact that the U.N. called 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity was a strong signal and a warning, which moved many world leaders to finally act to protect flora and fauna around Earth,” Josef Settele, head biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) told IPS.

The UFZ is the leading German centre of research on biodiversity. Settele, an expert on conservation and evolutionary biology, is editor of the UFZ ‘Atlas Biodiversity Risk’, the first of its kind to be published.

Settele admitted that the present state of biodiversity is dismaying. In Germany alone, more than 40 percent of all species inventoried in the country are considered at risk. “The overall situation of biodiversity is worrisome,” Settele said. “But the EU was too ambitious in formulating the objective of stopping the decimation of biodiversity by 2010. Such a target is very unlikely to be fulfilled. Ever.”

However, Settele said, several important initiatives have been launched this year that address the issue of biodiversity protection, such as the U.N. biodiversity agreement of Nagoya, and the presentation of the newest report on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), both in October.

With the TEEB report, Settele pointed out, the “economic importance of the world’s natural assets is now firmly on the political radar. This study showcases the enormous economic value of forest, freshwater, soils and coral reefs, as well as the social and economic costs of their loss.”

As an example, Settele pointed to the economic value of bees. “Thanks to TEEB, we now know that when bees pollinate flora worldwide, they produce an enormous economic value,” he said.

TEEB estimated that the worldwide pollination carried out by bees in 2005 was worth some 153 billion euros (about 200 billion dollars).

At the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nagoya in Japan, world leaders approved a key measure to protect biodiversity: a goal of eliminating all subsidies for agriculture and fishery, which provoke decimation of flora and fauna, by the year 2020. Worldwide, these subsidies amount to some 670 billion dollars.

Kai Frobel, professor of geology and ecology at the German university of Bayreuth, praised the Nagoya conference as a major step in the international protection of biodiversity. Frobel told IPS that the implementation of such measures in Europe constitutes a litmus test for the political will of European leaders to live up to their own environmental commitments.

Official subsidies for European agriculture and fisheries constitute the largest chunk of the EU budget, and must be revised before 2013. “We will see… whether the governments in France and Germany are willing to continue wasting taxpayers’ money to finance the destruction of nature,” Frobel warned.

Frobel also praised the Nagoya decision for including language regulating access and benefit sharing. According to one clause, industrialised countries must pay each time they use biological resources, including genetic material, from developing countries.

Furthermore, the Nagoya agreement establishes the expansion of new protected areas. “All these measures constitute a clear progress towards protecting biodiversity,” Frobel said.

However, Frobel pointed out, actions speak louder than words.

“The measures must be implemented,” he warned. “As of now, the Nagoya agreement constitutes only a binding declaration of intentions. Nagoya will only be a success if the measures the world leaders agreed upon there last October are actually put in practice.”

Frobel worries that in the coming year biodiversity may disappear from the political agenda. “During 2011, the EU must negotiate its agricultural policy after 2013, and therefore the subject of biodiversity will be present in Europe,” he said. “But otherwise, biodiversity won’t dominate the political agenda as much as it did in 2010.”

Frobel urged his colleagues worldwide to promote the importance of protecting biodiversity. “Biodiversity must become an integral part of the elementary syllabus, in order to teach younger generations to appreciate the social and economic value of flora and fauna.

“People have also come to realise that the protection of biodiversity does not mean protecting one particular species, but whole ecosystems,” he said.

*This story is part of a series of features on biodiversity by Inter Press Service (IPS), CGIAR/Biodiversity International, International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), and the United Nations Environment Programme/Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD) – all members of the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development.

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