22 May 2018 Story Ecosystems

Wildly optimistic: Report predicts a healthy future for biodiversity

The International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May provides an opportunity to reflect on biodiversity challenges and opportunities ahead of a major UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt in November 2018.

Global trends towards population stabilization, poverty alleviation, and urbanization are rewriting the future of biodiversity conservation and offering new hope for the world's wildlife and wild places, according to a surprisingly optimistic paper recently published in the journal BioScience. 

Titled From Bottleneck to Breakthrough: Urbanization and the Future of Biodiversity Conservation, the paper says that for the first time in the modern era, the global demographic and economic trends that have resulted in unprecedented destruction of the environment are now creating the necessary conditions for a possible renaissance of nature.

Many people think that the population of people on Earth will always rise, but the authors – three experts at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society – point out that the demographic transition is already well under way. The rate of growth in the global population has been dropping since the 1960s.

“Drawing reasonable inferences from current patterns, we can predict that 100 years from now, the Earth could be inhabited by between 6 and 8 billion people, with very few remaining in extreme poverty, most living in towns and cities, and nearly all participating in a technologically driven, interconnected market economy,” says the paper’s abstract.

Good urbanization is key. Cities lead people to choose to have smaller families, and the increased income urbanites derive from working in town mean that people can choose to conserve nature, not destroy it, through choices about what they buy and how they live.

These considerations lead the authors to suggest that within our generation, or the generation to follow, if society makes the right moves now, there could be possibilities for “rewilding” that were unimaginable to previous generations of conservationists.

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Nature’s diversity key to human survival, well-being

Nature provides an extremely complex and intricate network of living things delicately balanced and adapted to inhabit the diverse climatic and geographical regions on our planet. Many of these intricate relationships are not understood – all the more reason to protect this natural wealth.

Humans, like other species of animals, depend on nature in all its diversity for our sustenance and survival.

While nature can be deadly (humans can drown in the ocean, be eaten by a lion, or killed by their fellows), we also benefit from nature in myriad ways, and technology is opening up new opportunities. Here are two tiny examples:

  • Scientists have discovered moss that filters arsenic out of water, making it safe to drink
  • Owls’ wings have inspired quieter designs for wind turbines

A legal compass

The main legal instrument to address threats to biodiversity is an international treaty known as the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its three main goals are: conservation of biodiversity; sustainable use of biodiversity; and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. These are captured in the Nagoya and Cartagena Protocols and the Aichi Biodiversity targets.

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The Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety entered into force on 5 March 2018. It aims to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity by providing international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress relating to living modified organisms.

This year’s theme for the International Day of Biological Diversity on 22 May is Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity. It marks the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention and highlights progress to date.

Cristiana Paşca Palmer, executive secretary of the Convention, used her Earth Day message this year to highlight the threat of plastic pollution to biodiversity, pointing out that under the Convention’s Aichi Biodiversity Target 8 “pollution should be brought to levels not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity.”

“Beat plastic pollution” is the theme of this year’s World Environment Day on 5 June.

Further resources:

UN Environment SDG Policy Brief on Biodiversity https://environmentlive.unep.org/sdgpolicybrief

From Bottleneck to Breakthrough: Urbanization and the Future of Biodiversity Conservation

Last year’s story Tourism can help sustain biodiversity

Recent story on the impact of climate change on wildlife Outfoxed by climate change

IPBES study Biodiversity and nature's contributions continue dangerous decline, scientists warn