Experts urge better biodiversity cooperation

Species are going extinct at up to 1,000 times the natural background rate RDB

The complex web of international agencies, treaties and individuals trying to protect our environment and conserve biodiversity must become more efficient, say experts.

This content was published on June 5, 2010 - 11:25

World Environment Day is being celebrated on Saturday under the theme of biodiversity, “Many species. One planet. One Future”, echoing the urgent call to conserve the diversity of life on the planet.

“From the outside it looks like a mess,” Daniel Ziegerer, acting head of global affairs at the Federal Environment Office, told swissinfo.ch, following a biodiversity roundtable meeting in Geneva on Friday.

“We increasingly realise that the system as a whole is not delivering as effectively as it should to prevent environmental degradation.”

Ziegerer was referring to the multitude of environmental regulatory regimes, institutions and players that have sprung up since the 1960s. These include 500 multilateral environment agreements and 40 specialised United Nations agencies with an environmental mandate.

The overall system is flexible and offers targeted solutions, but it’s also fragmented, there are duplications, inconsistencies, regulatory gaps and inadequate leadership, he added.

Ziegerer called for broad institutional reforms, a strengthening of the UN Environment Programme, common goals, targets and indicators, and “clustering” of themes.

“We successfully tackled the chemicals and wastes cluster [bringing together the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions]; biodiversity could be next,” he said.

Gaetano Leone, deputy director of the UN Environment Programme’s Europe office, said organisations recognised the need for enhanced cooperation.

“The challenge is to do so in a synergistic manner that adds value and avoids duplication,” he said.

Critical stage

More coherent global cooperation is just one element in the battle to conserve biodiversity.

According to Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which oversees international efforts to conserve species, the fight to stop biodiversity loss is at a critical juncture.

“Species are going extinct at up to 1,000 times the natural background rate,” he explained.

His organisation released a report last month showing that world governments had failed to meet a 2010 target to halt biodiversity loss.

In a move endorsed by the UN General Assembly, more than 190 countries committed in 2002 to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

But the Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 report, issued every four years, said: "The diversity of living things on the planet continues to be eroded as a result of human activity."

The report said there had been significant progress in slowing the rate of loss for tropical forests and mangroves in some regions. But freshwater wetlands, sea ice habitats, salt marshes and coral reefs all showed serious decline.

Natural habitats in most parts of the world are shrinking and nearly a quarter of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction, it said.

Farmland bird populations in Europe have declined by on average 50 per cent since 1980, 42 per cent of the world's amphibian species are declining in numbers and crop and livestock genetic diversity is falling in farming.

Urgent action

“Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet," said Djoghlaf.

The report, based on a survey of some 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles and intergovernmental assessments, said climate change, pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation and invasive alien species were the five main drivers of biodiversity loss, and warned that the provision of fresh water, food and medicine could be at risk.

Delfin Ganapin, a senior manager for the UN Environment Programme’s Global Environment Facility that provides financing for the treaty's goals, said many of these problems "could be solved with urgent action”.

"If we can only summon even a fraction of the money that was put in to solve the financial crisis, we would have been able to avoid very much more serious and fundamental breakdowns in the Earth's life-support ecosystems," he said.

John Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), echoed her words.

“We need a more coherent way of moving forward to finance the biodiversity agenda,” he told the 100-strong audience in Geneva.

An international biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan, in October will consider goals for the next decade.

Simon Bradley, swissinfo.ch with agencies

Biodiversity in Switzerland

The Federal Environment Office describes biodiversity as the life that surrounds humans in all its forms, i.e. ecosystems, species and genetic diversity within a species. A third of humans food is drawn from plants pollinated by wild animals. Natural ecosystems contribute to the good quality of drinking water.

The effects of climate change on biodiversity are already visible – certain alpine species are moving up to higher altitudes by an average distance of 13 metres.

A national biodiversity monitoring programme, which was launched in 2001, shows that Mediterranean species such as different types of butterflies, have been arriving in alpine areas.

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Plan for the nation

A national strategy for protecting biodiversity is being developed by the government with a consultative body of NGOs and interested organisations.

The government set out two main aims for the strategy: to maintain sustainable biodiversity and for biodiversity to be sufficiently rich to adapt to changes.

It also set out four pillars of action: to provide enough protected space, to use resources in the country sustainably, to better understand the economic value of the biodiversity and for Switzerland to better assume its international responsibilities for biodiversity.

The strategy is due before parliament in 2011

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International Year

The United Nations has declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity.

A calendar of events for Switzerland will be announced on January 12 by Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger in a ceremony at the railway station in the Swiss capital, Bern.

Partner organisations include the Swiss Biodiversity Forum, ProNatura, WWF, Bird Life and Swiss zoos.

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