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COLUMN RELATED TO THE INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT DAY, JUNE 5: 15 YEARS AFTER THE RIO EARTH SUMMIT, PRACTICAL ACTION IS NEEDED

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MONTREAL, Jun 1 2007 (IPS) - Fifteen years after the Rio Earth Summit later, the consequences of the changes made by humans to Earth\’s natural systems have never been clearer, write Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change. In this article, the authors write that climate change is now recognized as an issue of extreme global importance. This year\’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) served to remove lingering doubts about the human role in global warming. As a result, in the last few months there has been a sea change in international public and political awareness and resolve to take action. Equally important but still less prominent in the public eye and on the political agenda is the continuing loss of biodiversity, which is a significant threat to human well-being. In terms of the intergovernmental climate change process, this year is critical for moving parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change towards the next phase of multilateral climate change abatement. A strong framework needs to be in place by 2010 to ensure that there is no gap between the end of the Kyoto Protocol\’s first commitment period in 2012 and the entry into force of a future regime. A comprehensive agenda on the future needs to be agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali in December this year. A new global alliance for life on Earth is urgently needed. We can no longer afford to miss any opportunity to turn the objectives of the Rio Earth Summit of fifteen years ago into practical action that will safeguard the planet\’s life support systems. We owe this to ourselves, to our children, to future generations, and to life on Earth.

As we commemorate World Environment Day fifteen years later, and twenty years after the Bruntland report, ”Our Common Future”, the consequences of the changes made by humans to Earth’s natural systems have never been clearer. Most prominently, climate change is now recognized as an issue of extreme global importance. This year’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and its finding that climate change is unequivocally human-induced, served to remove lingering doubts about the human role in global warming. As a result, in the last few months there has been a sea change in international public and political awareness and resolve to take action.

Equally important but still less prominent in the public eye and on the political agenda is the continuing loss of biodiversity, which is a significant threat to human well-being. As the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has shown, basic services such as a secure food supply, the provision of fresh water, and protection against disasters are in jeopardy as ecosystems across the globe are degraded by human activity.

The Earth Summit gave rise to separate international conventions on climate change and biodiversity – the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which aimed at tackling these twin threats through global co-operation. It is increasingly evident, however, that the issues are intimately linked. What we must now strive for, therefore, is active co-ordination between the policies of these Conventions so that the linkages between these threats to human survival can be more effectively addressed.

The clearest link between climate change and biodiversity was set out in the IPCC’s conclusion that approximately 20%-30% of the plant and animal species so far assessed are likely to be placed at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperatures exceed 1.5 to 2.5 degrees centigrades. This is due to a range of climate change-related impacts which are projected to have far-reaching effects, including the disruption of migration patterns, habitat degradation due to rising temperatures and rainfall changes, and the ”bleaching” of coral reefs as the delicate balance between coral and algae is disrupted by warmer oceans. It is also feared that the acidification of seawater due to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide will affect the ability of many marine organisms to form their shells.

Climate change is forecast to become the single greatest threat to biodiversity by the end of this century. Tackling the causes of climate change and reducing its scale is therefore an overarching priority for safeguarding ecosystems and the services they provide to human societies.

The link between climate change and biodiversity also operates in the other direction. Measures aimed specifically at safeguarding biodiversity can help both to reduce the scale of climate change and to minimize its impacts on nature and people. For example, protecting the enormous variety of plant and animal life in tropical forests will reduce the significant contribution made to greenhouse gas emissions by deforestation, enhance the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and its storage by plants, and at the same time preserve the role of the ecosystem in maintaining inland waters and groundwater recharge. Protecting mangroves, coral reefs, and coastal wetlands will help to lessen the impacts of extreme weather-related events, storms, and surges.

Tackling the multiple threats to ecosystems from human activities will make them more resilient to climate change. For example, it will be essential to increase the resilience of agricultural systems by protecting the large array of life forms with unique resilient traits, such as plants that survive droughts. Widely introducing sustainable agricultural practices can increase food security for a growing global population and help protect biologically diverse ecosystems.

An important step was taken in March. The ministers of environment of the G8 and five major newly industrializing countries – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa – came together in Potsdam specifically to look at these two global challenges. The ministers agreed that more efforts are needed to coherently address climate change and biodiversity together and supported a proposed Potsdam Initiative that will promote better co-ordination between policies and action addressing the two issues and will include a study of the economic benefits of biological diversity, the costs of its loss and failing to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation.

A global alliance for biodiversity conservation is required among the richest countries . Such an alliance is needed to prepare new biodiversity targets and agreements once those adopted in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development expire.

In terms of the intergovernmental climate change process, this year is critical for moving parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) towards the next phase of multilateral climate change abatement. A strong framework needs to be in place by 2010 to ensure that there is no gap between the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period in 2012 and the entry into force of a future regime. A comprehensive agenda on the future needs to be agreed at the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Bali in December this year.

A new global alliance for life on Earth is urgently needed. We can no longer afford to miss any opportunity to turn the objectives of the Rio Earth Summit of fifteen years ago into practical action that will safeguard the planet’s life support systems. We owe this to ourselves, to our children, to future generations, and to life on Earth. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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