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IUCN 2020: Tipping the Scales in Favor of Biodiversity

Analysis - 30 August 2021

The fire that destroyed the small village of Lytton, British Columbia, was still raging when other climate hazards started making headlines around the world. Record-high temperatures, historic floods, and uncontrollable wildfires hit North America and Europe in the span of only a month. Similar catastrophes unfolded in China and Pakistan, though they gained much less traction in the international media. These events are occurring only weeks before a cycle of international summits during which countries are expected to take significant pledges towards curbing climate change and biodiversity loss. As has become rather clear, human-caused climate change has considerably facilitated extreme natural disasters. Yet, while the climate crisis has become a central subject in national politics, as seen in the debates leading up to the German general elections, the fundamentally interconnected objective of preserving biodiversity is getting little consideration.
 
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress 2020 will take place from September 3 to 11, 2021, at a time when the state of biodiversity around the world appears dire. France, host to the IUCN Congress this year, is no stranger to the threats posed to biodiversity. The French government is quite familiar with soil artificialization, the fragmentation of natural environments, and pollution. Climate change is also a key factor in biodiversity loss all around the world. As a result, this coming cycle of negotiations calls for resolute action on the part of the international community, as the fight against biodiversity loss is shaping up to become one of the biggest international challenges of the coming decades.

Biodiversity in jeopardy

Biodiversity is key to ensuring human life and well-being on the planet. In particular, ecosystem services that are fundamental to the provision of our basic needs require biodiversity to be rich and stable all around the globe. Yet, biodiversity has endured an unprecedented erosion in the past decades. While it can be explained by numerous direct and indirect factors, spanning from land use and climate change to the demographic explosion, human activity remains at the center of this phenomenon. Based on the Living Planet Index, which monitors the abundance of numerous species as a proxy measure for biodiversity evolution, an average 68% decline in monitored populations was recorded worldwide between 1970 and 2016. The Latin America and Caribbean region is the most impacted, mainly due to renewed deforestation that has weakened the carbon absorption properties of the Amazon rainforest in recent years. Still, limiting biodiversity loss in Europe and Central Asia is equally paramount. In this region, the decline in monitored populations is 24%, and only 23% of species and 16% of habitats remain in "good health."

The fight against biodiversity loss is shaping up to become one of the biggest international challenges of the coming decades.

The unprecedented loss of biodiversity currently at play at the international level will have direct consequences on human lives. Of course, the fact that one million species are threatened with extinction over the coming decades and centuries, albeit preventable to some extent, is cause for immense worry. Yet, the destabilization of our ecosystems will also come with profound economic and social repercussions. Pollination, for instance, constitutes a token of rich biodiversity and more than 75% of food crop types throughout the world rely on it.

The health of the human population heavily depends on the richness of our planet’s biodiversity, not least because close to four billion people rely primarily on natural medicine. Finally, the absence of ambitious measures to protect biodiversity is also likely to negatively impact the global economy. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimates that land degradation has prompted a decrease in productivity across 23% of the global terrestrial area. The fight to protect biodiversity is therefore in no way solely environmental.
 
These figures are nothing less than warning signs. While the fight against climate change ought to be at the top of the agenda for policy-makers, biodiversity preservation must not be seen as a separate subject or be given any less importance. In fact, resolving these two issues will require a coordinated response. With a lot to lose from the foreseeable biodiversity degradation, significant pledges will have to be made by the international community at the IUCN in Marseille.

High stakes for France and the way forward

France is a pivotal harbor for biodiversity around the world. It is situated in five biodiversity "hotspots" and is home to 10% of known species at the international level. Yet, its rich ecosystems have come under threat. Out of 132 so-called "habitats of Community interest" in France, only 20% were in "favorable" conservation status for the 2013-2018 period. 17.6% of species evaluated across the past thirteen years in France are also at threat of extinction. To tackle this challenge, the national government has recently intensified its activities in the protection of land and marine areas. Most notably, new national parks have been created, some harmful inputs have been banned from agricultural practices, and biodiversity has been turned into a key component of territorial planning strategies. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to ensure the longevity of the country’s rich ecosystems.

Either way, the price of inaction would be high for France, as the French economy is heavily dependent on the preservation of ecosystem services. France is a leader in the agricultural and agrifood sector in Europe: it comes ahead of its European counterparts in cereal production and second in the exportation of milk, wine, and the production and exportation of liquor. This is a direct consequence of the prevalence of a mild and stable climate across its territory, which is something the country can no longer take for granted today.

The collapse of France’s biodiversity would jeopardize food security and make it more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Additionally, soil fertility is made possible by the activity of insects and plants that populate the soils, which appears to have consistently declined in the past decades. Beyond agriculture, this signifies the importance of biodiversity preservation if France is to maintain a strong economic position at the international level. Among other consequences, the collapse of France’s biodiversity would jeopardize food security and make it more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
 
As the IUCN Congress draws closer, France is likely to put forward strong pledges to protect the incredibly rich biodiversity of its national territory. The French delegation’s actions are likely to be aimed at tackling the root causes of biodiversity loss, by focusing on five main axes:
 

  • Fighting the unequal soil artificialization across the national territory by empowering communities to fight biodiversity loss. France appears committed to giving member status to local authorities in the IUCN, a pledge it will need to strengthen to avoid an outcome similar to that of the Hawaii Congress in 2016, when such a proposition got rejected ;
     
  • Mitigating habitat fragmentation, which often results from urbanization and infrastructure development, by making biodiversity preservation a key component of territorial planning ;
     
  • Reinforcing the agricultural sector’s commitment to protecting biodiversity, at the national and European levels. Metrics of biodiversity loss should be improved and become systematically considered in the case of unsustainable imports, in particular for productions that result from deforestation abroad. Similarly, upward harmonization should be the rule in the European Union, to favor a progressive and common departure from harmful inputs and limited species cultivation techniques ;
     
  • Strengthening the protection of endangered species by developing comprehensive plans to anticipate the importation or settlement of non-endemic species in fragile ecosystems ;
     
  • Integrating biodiversity preservation objectives in the fight against climate change, at the national and European levels. Biodiversity imperatives should be accounted for in the development of all climate-related policies to prevent the adoption of environmental measures that could be harmful to the ecosystem, like the cultivation of artificial forests.

     


Copyright: AFP

 

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