UN report calls for global efforts to save species from extinction; ASEAN in forefront of conservation

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One million plant and animal species are facing extinction due to human activities, with agriculture as one of the biggest threats to Earth’s biodiversity and ecosystems. This summarises the findings of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Backed by the UN, IPBES is the intergovernmental body which assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society, in response to requests from decision makers. The Report, which was released on 6 May 2019 during the IPBES meeting in Paris, is the most comprehensive ever completed, the first intergovernmental report of its kind, and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005.

The Report said about 75 per cent of land and 66 per cent of oceans have been “significantly altered” by people, driven in large part by the production of food. Crop and livestock operations currently co-opt more than 33 per cent of Earth’s land surface and 75 per cent of its freshwater resources. The Report identified agricultural activities as some of the largest contributors to human emissions of greenhouse gases. They account for roughly 25 per cent of total emissions due to the use of fertilisers and the conversion of areas such as tropical forests to grow crops or raise livestock such as cattle. Agricultural threats to ecosystems will only increase as the world’s population continues to grow, according to the Report. Other notable findings of the Report include:

·         Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23 per cent of the global land surface; up to USD 577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss; and 100 to 300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.

·         In 2015, 33 per cent of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60 per cent were maximally sustainably fished, with just seven per cent harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.

·         Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980; 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters; and fertilisers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’.

·         Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

·         The next biggest threats to nature are the exploitation of plants and animals through harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing; climate change; pollution and the spread of invasive species. The average abundance of native plants, animals and insects has fallen in most major ecosystems by at least 20 per cent since 1900 because of invasive species.

·         An estimated five per cent of all species would be threatened with extinction by 2 °C of warming above pre-industrial levels — a threshold that the world could breach in the next few decades, unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced. Earth could lose 16 per cent of its species if the average global temperature rise exceeds 4.3 °C. Such damage to ecosystems would undermine global efforts to reduce poverty and hunger and promote more-sustainable development.

During a press conference launching the summary of the Report, Ms. Anne Larigauderie, IPBES executive secretary, said biodiversity should be at the top of the global agenda alongside climate change as the two are the biggest threats to human and species survival.

Mr. Robert Watson, IPBES chair, said, “Without transformative changes to the world’s economic, social, and political systems to address this crisis, the IPBES panel predicts that major biodiversity losses will continue to 2050 and beyond. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

In an interview by Science Magazine with Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim, executive director of the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), about the impact of the new IPBES Report, Dr. Lim said, “The global assessment provides useful figures and case illustrations that will allow policy makers all over the world, including in the ASEAN Member States, to better visualise the state of the world’s and ASEAN’s biodiversity and natural resources, and their impacts to human survival. The Report also provides good rationale, as well as suggestions for developing national, regional, and global policies and actions that can address gaps and guide future work that may possibly improve or reverse current situations.

As the final version of the Report will be released at the end of the year, Dr. Lim suggested some areas for improvement: “Though capacity building measures and policy support continue to be vital for various national agencies and implementing entities involved in biodiversity conservation, there remains a need to generate and present the science and scientific assessments necessary for policy development and corresponding actions. Law makers and leaders will respond to data and information that can directly link biodiversity loss to human well-being and survival.”

Dr. Lim added that to enable any country to continue to progress, but at the same time protect its rich and unique biological resources, consolidated information serving as sound basis for making decisions on trade-offs, and striking the balance between conservation and development, would be a most useful contribution that a body like IPBES can provide.

“The Report needs to be broad enough to encompass various national and regional situations. More details will still have to be generated and provided later on, which should be able to support specific on-the-ground actions. Thus, assessment may have to eventually be scaled down at the regional and at the country level”, Dr. Lim suggested.

Dr. Lim said the Report will guide the ASEAN Member States (AMS), supported by the ACB, in developing recommendations for the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. “The IPBES Report is very timely as the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are currently in the process of developing a global biodiversity framework that will succeed the Aichi Biodiversity Targets after 2020.”

She reported that the AMS, supported by ACB, have already conducted two consultative sessions, the first in Manila last April, and the second in Lao PDR, this month, where representatives of the AMS called for a more quantified goal on maintaining ecosystem integrity, with a clear set of spatial indicators and a clear agreement on the level of commitment among the AMS.

The Report emphasised that the world needs transformative change if life on Earth is to be safeguarded and people are to continue to receive the services and benefits that nature provides. On this issue, Dr. Lim said the ASEAN consultation participants agreed on: (1) transboundary cooperation which considers internal boundaries, not just regional; (2) linkages among pillars such that cross-sectors should be part of the action plans with flexible mechanisms to allow different sectors to be engaged in each other’s activities; and (3) transformation of mindset such that ASEAN may be aware of what it can provide to the region, given its myriad of challenges post-2020.

“The ASEAN Member States have already identified an over-arching vision for biodiversity in the ASEAN region that we hope to achieve by 2050. Our vision is more descriptive, suggesting that there needs to be quantifiable targets that will preserve and enhance ecosystem integrity in the ASEAN region.  We also discussed possible tools and measures which may be used to achieve the vision for 2050. These include: (1) mainstreaming biodiversity; (2) resource mobilisation; (3) communication, education and public awareness; and (4) integrating diverse perspectives,” Dr. Lim reported.

She agreed with the Report’s recommended actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, marine systems, and freshwater systems, among many others.

In agriculture, the Report emphasised the promotion of good agricultural and agroecological practices; multifunctional landscape planning, which simultaneously provides food security, livelihood opportunities, maintenance of species and ecological functions; and cross-sectoral integrated management.

In marine systems, the Report highlighted the ecosystem-based approaches to fisheries management, spatial planning, effective quotas, marine protected areas, protecting and managing key marine biodiversity areas, reducing run-off pollution into oceans, and working closely with producers and consumers.

In freshwater systems, policy options and actions include more inclusive water governance for collaborative water management and greater equity; better integration of water resource management and landscape planning across scales; promoting practices to reduce soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution run-off; increasing water storage; promoting investment in water projects with clear sustainability criteria; as well as addressing the fragmentation of many freshwater policies.

Dr. Lim said the AMS are already implementing some of the Report’s recommendations, specifically on protected areas and the campaign against overutilisation of resources. For example, the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme manages a regional network of representative protected areas to generate greater collaboration among ASEAN Member States in preserving their shared natural heritage. As part of ASEAN’s campaign against overutilisation of resources, some AMS, supported by ACB and Germany, are implementing a project promoting biodiversity-based products as an Economic source for the improvement of livelihoods and biodiversity protection.

She added that the ACB and the AMS are currently preparing the third edition of the ASEAN Biodiversity Outlook, which will complement the IPBES Report, by focusing on the status of biodiversity and ecosystems in the ASEAN region and the conservation achievements, actions and next steps for the AMS in ensuring the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems.

 Dr. Lim said the Report’s recommendations will further guide the AMS in  enhancing its current conservation programmes and crafting new policies and programmes that will further strengthen ASEAN actions on protected areas, ecosystem services, species conservation, invasive alien species, mainstreaming biodiversity in different sectors, ecosystem restoration, access and benefit sharing, communication, and knowledge management for biodiversity conservation. These and future programmes will ensure the conservation of the region’s biodiversity and ecosystems, as the ASEAN region is in the forefront of global conservation and sustainability, serving as home to 20 per cent of the world’s know plant and animal species.

By Rolando A. Inciong

Photo from the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Services Twitter Account

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