Why Our Response To The Ongoing Biodiversity Crisis Has Been Woefully Underfunded and What We Can Do About It. Transformative Change is Required!

Warming seas kills corals by a process of bleaching. If the size of this dead brain coral was relative to the US $24 trillion annual benefit of ecosystem services provided by global biodiversity, then the amount we would need to invest in properly protecting this biodiversity would be smaller than just one of these red Christmas tree worms! The return on investment is outstanding!

There’s a yawning gap between the funding that is thought to be necessary to protect global biodiversity and the amount that is actually being spent on global wildlife conservation efforts according to the Massive Open Online Course on Biodiversity Finance (MOOC) that I’m currently studying.

Click here for an insight into tiger conservation economics and course link. It is true to say that the ecology is a natural form of economy. One wise author asked how long would our community last if it were suddenly covered up by a giant wine glass and isolated from the rest of biodiversity? Not long at all. As modern humans, the very same thing could be said of our economies.

Biodiversity, the total variety of all living things including all the single and multi-celled plants, fungi and animals is important because the more different things that live in an area, the more productive overall that area will be. It was Charles Darwin who first recognized this to be true and in doing so he realized that different species were diversifying their lifestyles to fill available ecological niches and thus supporting others’ lifestyles no matter whether it was as predator and prey species, parasites, saprophytes, endophytes, commensual neighbors or mutualistic symbionts. Just as in our human economies, diversity of activity is a good thing in the ecology. For a rich life we need artists and engineers, farmers, fishers, nurses, mechanics, poets, teachers and grave diggers etc.

We don’t all have to be doing the same things for a living, do we? In fact it is a very good thing for our economy that we aren’t all doing the same thing. A diverse society is a strong society, it has more options and thus more avenues for prosperity, health and happiness. Homo sapiens thrives in cooperation, each with our differing contributions.

The total value of biodiversity’s ecosystem benefits that are contributed annually to the global economy is thought to be approximately US $24 trillion, while the amount expended yearly to maintain global biodiversity is just about US $52 billion. No wonder we are losing this battle.

That conservation spending is not nearly enough to maintain our global life support system and in short, that is why we are losing species at such an alarming rate. A rate that is thought to be ten to a hundred times higher than the estimated natural background extinction rate according to a new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Biodiversity loss headed the BBC World News on Monday May 6th, 2019 for the first time in history with the release of information from the 1800 page IPBES report entitled The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the first report of its kind in 14 years and sourced from over 15000 articles from work by 145 researchers.

The IPBES is to biodiversity as the IPCC is to climate change, it is an independent intergovernmental body with 130 country members linked in a global scientific network tasked with equipping decision makers with sound data and analysis on which to base policy choices.

This is indispensable scientific evidence on the health of the natural environment. This scientific body states that our 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.

“The Global Assessment offers a comprehensive view of the current conditions of global biodiversity, which is the essential infrastructure that supports all forms of life on Earth, including human life,” said CBD Executive Secretary Dr. Cristiana Pașca-Palmer, welcoming the release of the report Monday in Paris. “Building a bridge between science and policy-making is crucial at this time. Without clear grounding in science-based evidence, the policies and decisions made at government and nongovernmental level, including private sector, would not be able to tackle this challenge effectively,” she said.

“The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius – with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics – impacts expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.”

Source IBPS Secretariat: https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

The report finds that biodiversity’s decline threatens people’s basic needs. It states that “while more food, energy and materials than ever before are now being supplied to people in most places, this is increasingly at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future and frequently undermines nature’s many other contributions, which range from water quality regulation to sense of place.” The main drivers of nature degradation are:

  • land use changes,
  • climate change,
  • pollution,
  • invasive species.

There is clear evidence that current patterns of production and consumption are unsustainable, according to the report. “Goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors,” it said. Click the button below for a Summary of the Global Assessment.

IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson said in the report “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” Up to a million species now face extinction because of human activities. Read this BBC news article for more information about the extinction risks.

My understanding from studying the biodiversity finance course is that the cost to adequately protect the ecosystem benefits that sustain our lives is thought to amount to an expenditure of something between US $150 billion and US $440 billion annually.

Even at the higher end of the range, that spending would be a very sound investment for such an enormous return! If I was a pension fund manager I’d opt in! The ratio of return on investment doesn’t get better than this, while failure to adjust would cost us everything. Cockroaches and extremophile species would probably survive us, but I’d call that small consolation! For a glimpse of impoverished ecosystems we need look no further than the geological record of Big Five Extinction horizons. In the late Cretaceous period 65 million years ago an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs in the fifth great extinction. The current, sixth great extinction is happening now and is undoubtedly anthropogenic with its effects noticeable in every part of the world.

Climate related disasters are common news now as we have exceeded the safe planetary boundary for Carbon Dioxide emissions through forest loss, wasteful food practices, emission of coolant gasses, inefficient lighting and burning of fossil fuels. Take the CNN Climate Change Quiz to see how well you understand what our appropriate response to climate change should include! I think you’ll be surprised.

I’m very glad that economists are engaging with this biodiversity crisis because it would be a very expensive mistake to continue business as usual in the old ‘grow or die’ mindset. In short, we’d continue to grow for a while and then we’d die.

Unless remedial action is taken quickly we will lose important pollinator animals. The annual value of global crop output at risk due to pollinator loss is estimated to be somewhere between US$235 snd US$577 billion according to the IBPS report press release

Human societies are now using more natural resources each year than can be naturally replenished in the same time frame and we are effectively undermining our natural support system. I learned on my course that we are using 1.6 times the planetary resources of Earth, and that this is badly affecting the ecological balance. I also learned that researchers believe that intelligent management of our human economy within the optimal ‘dough-nut’ shaped sustainable parameters model could theoretically yield 170% of our current global GDP on a sustainable basis. In other words, it makes complete economic sense to stop doing things the wrong way and start doing things the right way. The experts propose the following remedial actions:

 Reducing deforestation, restoring forests, wetlands and other ecosystems, and agricultural practices that build soil organic matter could contribute more than a third of the total efforts needed by 2030 to keep global warming well below 2 degrees;

 Better use of biodiversity in agriculture (such as pollinators, natural enemies of pests and soil biodiversity) could increase yields while reducing the use of harmful chemicals;

 Protecting coral reefs and mangroves protects coastal areas from extreme weather events;

 Urban green spaces and access to natural areas can improve mental and physical health.

Right now it is not too late to design a more sustainable global economy, there is far more at stake than mere survival. Many people in developed and developing countries can hope for a better quality of life.