Lowered biodiversity a threat to humans
The largest study ever conducted on the environment, the result of four years of collaboration between 1,360 natural and social scientists from 95 countries, was presented at McGill University and warns that harm to our ecosystems over the last 50 years will put the well-being of future generations at risk if current patterns of biodiversity loss continue.
Findings of Biodiversity Synthesis presented on International Day for Biological Diversity
Earth's species — their variety and numbers — are declining faster than ever, which is a threat to the well-being of future generations of humans. The culprit for the decline in biodiversity is people themselves, according to a new study presented at McGill University to mark the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 19.
The study, "Ecosystems and Human Well-being: the Biodiversity Synthesis Report" (also see the website), was prepared by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) with the cooperation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The report, the largest of its kind ever conducted, is the result of four years of collaboration between 1,360 natural and social scientists from 95 countries.
The study warns that harm to our ecosystems over the last 50 years will put the well-being of future generations at risk if current patterns of biodiversity loss continue. The report indicates that declines in biodiversity can be addressed only if societies make a concerted and coordinated effort to conserve and sustainably use biological diversity, as well as set long-term policy goals and targets.
Key findings of the study indicate that:
- Changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history.
- Over the last 100 years, human-caused species extinction has multiplied as much as 1,000 times.
- Some 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of mammals, 25 percent of conifers and 32 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction.
- The world's fish stocks have been reduced by an astonishing 90 percent since the start of industrial fishing.
"In order to maintain and enhance the services we receive from nature, we are faced with major challenges," indicated Anantha Kumar Duraiappah, one of the co-chairs of the biodiversity synthesis and director of Economic Policy at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (Winnipeg). "We will need to make sure that we don't disrupt the biological web to the point where collapse of the whole system becomes irreversible. And we must find more equitable ways of sharing ecosystem services."
The report also addresses the following:
- Changes in biodiversity — habitat conservation, climate change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources and rising alien invasive species — are constant and in some cases increasing in intensity.
- Capitalizing on biological diversity may have allowed for improvements in human well-being, but at the cost of the degradation of ecosystem services, leading to the exacerbation of poverty for many people.
- It is possible to conserve biological diversity and reduce poverty if governments design their policies with the sustainable use of biological diversity as a primary goal.
- To achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals and the CBD's 2010 biodiversity target of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss will require tradeoffs. If actors coordinate their implementation strategies these tradeoffs can be minimized.
- To attain the 2010 biodiversity target of a substantial reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity will require an unprecedented effort. Modest goals are still possible if necessary actors take steps now.
Commentary on Biodiversity Synthesis Report
"It is with enthusiasm that the government of Québec associates itself with the International Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for the launch of the Biodiversity Synthesis report. For the government of Québec, it is an ideal time to reaffirm its commitments to the preservation of life on Earth, notably as part of its 2004-2007 Action Plan on Biodiversity. This event is also the perfect time to reflect upon and properly reconsider our priorities in response to this tremendous global challenge, which is a call to us all to work together in harmony with nature," said Thomas J. Mulcair, Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.
"Loss of biodiversity is a major barrier that poses increasing risks for future generations," said Walter Reid, director of the Millennium Assessment. "The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report shows that management tools, policies and technologies do exist to dramatically slow this loss."
"This is quite literally a pivotal moment in the history of our planet," said Jacques Hurtubise, McGill University interim Vice-Principal (Research). "Our institution is well placed and proud to be playing a role in the report and ensuing discussions, through its expert teaching and research in many disciplines, and in particular through the McGill School of Environment."
Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the report is of great value to all those concerned with the Convention on Biological Diversity and its objectives — the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the equitable sharing of its benefits. "The report's findings remind us that biodiversity is a requirement for all life on the planet — it is life insurance for our changing world," he said. "The report reminds us of the need for action now.
"I encourage all parties to the Convention to consider the report at the upcoming 11th meeting of our scientific advisory body — SBSTTA — and prepare recommendations concerning its implications for the future work of the Convention, including the 2010 biodiversity target," Zedan added.
About the Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most broadly subscribed international environmental treaty in the world. Opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it currently has 187 state parties and the European Community who have committed themselves to its three main goals: the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components, and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The Secretariat is located in Montreal, Canada.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment synthesis is the second in a series of seven syntheses and summary reports and four technical volumes that assess the state of global ecosystems and the impact on human well-being. The four-year assessment is recognized by governments as a mechanism to meet part of the assessment needs of a number of international environmental treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity.
About McGill University
McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university and has earned an international reputation for scholarly achievement and scientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools which offer more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renowned professors and researchers from around the world and top students from more than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverse education environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. It is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill's two campuses are located in Montreal, Canada.