Loss of Biodiversity

Tipping Points – Biodiversity Loss

“Continuing emissions contravene international laws regarding crimes against humanity and related International and Australian covenants. In the absence of an effective global mitigation effort, governments world-wide are now presiding over the demise of future generations and of nature, tracking toward one of the greatest mass extinction events nature has seen. It is time we learned from the history of planet Earth.” – Andrew Glikson, Another link between CO2 and mass extinction of species, 16 Apr 2013; Arctic News.

At the Seventh Trondheim (Norway) Conference on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Chairman Zakri Abdul Hamid said “we are hurtling towards irreversible environmental tipping points that, once passed, would reduce the ability of ecosystems to provide essential goods and services to humankind.”

Alarming figures from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook-5 (GEO-5) include:

  • With more than 30 per cent of the Earth’s land surface used for agricultural production, some natural habitats have been shrinking by more than 20 per cent since the 1980s.
  • The world lost over 100 million hectares of forest from 2000 to 2005, and has lost 20 per cent of its sea grass and mangrove habitats since 1970 and 1980 respectively.
  • In some regions, 95 per cent of wetlands have been lost. Two-thirds of the world’s largest rivers are now moderately to severely fragmented by dams and reservoirs.
  • Vertebrate populations have declined on average by 30 per cent since 1970; around 20 per cent of vertebrate species are now under threat.
  • The extinction risk is increasing faster for corals than for any other group of living organisms, with the condition of coral reefs declining by 38 per cent since 1980. Rapid contraction is projected by 2050.

In August 1999, Environment New Service, reported: “the current extinction rate is now approaching 1,000 times the background rate and may climb to 10,000 times the background rate during the next century, if present trends continue [resulting in] a loss that would easily equal those of past extinctions.” (Emphasis added)

A major report, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, released in March 2005 highlighted a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth, with some 10-30% of the mammal, bird and amphibian species threatened with extinction, due to human actions. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) added that Earth is unable to keep up in the struggle to regenerate from the demands we place on it.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) notes in a video that many species are threatened with extinction. In addition, at threat of extinction are: (i) 1 out of 8 birds; (ii) 1 out of 4 mammals; (iii) 1 out of 4 conifers; (iv) 1 out of 3 amphibians; (v) 6 out of 7 marine turtles; (vi) 75% of genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost; (vii) 75% of the world’s fisheries are fully or over exploited; (viii) Up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.5°C; (ix) 1/3rd of reef-building corals around the world are threatened with extinction; (x) Over 350 million people suffer from severe water scarcity.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List to assess the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties, and even selected subpopulations on a global scale. [Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2010) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, May 2010, p. 28]

Declining Amphibian Populations:

  • Amphibians are particularly sensitive to changes in the environment. Amphibians have been described as a marker species or the equivalent of “canaries of the coal mines” meaning they provide an important signal to the health of biodiversity; when they are stressed and struggling, biodiversity may be under pressure. When they are doing well, biodiversity is probably healthy.
  • Malcom MacCallum of the Biological Sciences Program, Texas A&M University calculated that the current extinction rate of amphibians could be 211 times the background amphibian extinction rate [PDF]. He added that “If current estimates of amphibian species in imminent danger of extinction are included in these calculations, then the current amphibian extinction rate may range from 25,039–45,474 times the background extinction rate for amphibians.

Reptiles Threatened by Deforestation, Habitat Loss & Trade:

  • 19% of the world’s reptiles are estimated to be threatened with extinction, according to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London. Reptiles include species such as snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises.
  • The study noted that the extinction risk is not evenly spread. For example, the study estimated 30% of freshwater reptiles to be close to extinction. Freshwater turtles alone are at a 50% risk of extinction, as they are also affected by national and international trade.
  • Why are reptiles so sensitive to environmental conditions?: “Reptiles are often associated with extreme habitats and tough environmental conditions, so it is easy to assume that they will be fine in our changing world. However, many species are very highly specialized in terms of habitat use and the climatic conditions they require for day to day functioning. This makes them particularly sensitive to environmental changes.”

Dwindling Fish Stocks:

  • IPS reports that fish catches are expected to decline dramatically in the world’s tropical regions because of climate change. Furthermore, “in 2006, aquaculture consumed 57 percent of fish meal and 87 percent of fish oil” as industrial fisheries operating in tropical regions have been “scooping up enormous amounts of fish anchovies, herring, mackerel and other small pelagic forage fish to feed to farmed salmon or turn into animal feed or pet food.”
  • A research article in the journal, Science, warned commercial fish and seafood species may all crash by 2048. At the current rate of loss, it is feared the oceans may never recover. Extensive coastal pollution, climate change, over-fishing and the enormously wasteful practice of deep-sea trawling are all contributing to the problem, as Inter Press Service (IPS) summarized.
  • Loss of Biodiversity’s effect on aquatic ecosystems: Ecosystems are incredibly productive and efficient—when there is sufficient biodiversity. Each form of life works together with the surrounding environment to help recycle waste, maintain the ecosystem, and provide services that others—including humans—use and benefit from.
  • For example, as Steve Palumbi of Stamford University (Dr. Boris Worm, Losing species, Dalhousie University, November 3, 2006) noted, the ocean ecosystems can (i) Take sewage and recycle it into nutrients; (ii) Scrub toxins out of the water; (iii) Produce food for many species, including humans; (iv) Turns carbon dioxide into food and oxygen.
  • With massive species loss, the report warns, at current rates, in less than 50 years, the ecosystems could reach the point of no return, where they would not be able to regenerate themselves. Dr. Boris Worm comments: “Whether we looked at tide pools or studies over the entire world’s ocean, we saw the same picture emerging. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems. I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are—beyond anything we suspected.”

Declining Ocean Biodiversity:

  • It is not just fish in the oceans that may be struggling, but most biodiversity in the seas. This includes mammals (e.g. whales, dolphins, polar bears), birds (e.g. penguins), and other creatures (e.g. krill).
  • The Census of Marine Life is a global network of researchers and scientists. They’ve been involved in a decade-long initiative to assess diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the oceans. A better understanding of these complex systems is clearly important given our dependence on the marine ecosystem in various ways. [Brief explanation of why we need to monitor ocean biodiversity, Ocean Observations Biodiversity Video, Census on Marine Life, November 28, 2007]
  • This first Census of Marine Life (CoML) hopes to act as a baseline of how human activity is affecting previously unexplored marine ecosystems. A database of global marine life has also published as well as numerous videos (also on YouTube) images, and reports: 2010.)
  • The Census was able to determine, that over-fishing was reported to be the greatest threat to marine biodiversity in all regions followed by habitat loss and pollution. One of the summary reports also added that “the fact that these threats were reported in all regions indicates their global nature.” A collection of regional and overview reports were also published on the Public Library of Science web site
  • In the past century, commercial whaling has decimated numerous whale populations, many of which have struggled to recover.
  • Increasing rapid ocean acidification, caused by the oceans absorbing more carbon dioxide than usual (because it is emitted by humans more than it should) also affects marine ecosystems, as explained at the climate change and biodiversity page.

Loss of Forests and Biodiversity:

  • A 20-year study has shown that deforestation and introduction of non-native species has led to about 12.5% of the world’s plant species to become critically rare. (In fact, as an example, a study suggests that the Amazon damage is worse than previously thought, due to previously undetected types of selective logging and deforestation.)
  • A report from the World Commission on Forests and Sustainable Development suggests that the forests of the world have been exploited to the point of crisis and that major changes in global forest management strategies would be needed to avoid the devastation.
  • What also makes this a problem is that many of the endangered species are only found in small areas of land, often within the borders of a single country.
  • New species of animals and plants are still being discovered. In Papua New Guinea, 44 new species of animals were discovered recently in the forests. Logging may affect these animals’ habitats, though. The loss of rainforests around the world, where many species of life are found will mean that potential knowledge, whether medicinal, sustenance sources, or evolutionary and scientific information etc. could be lost.
  • Brazil, which is estimated to have around 55,000 species of flora, amounting to some 22% of the world’s total and India for example, which has about 46,000 and some 81,000 animal species (amounting to some 8% of the world’s biodiversity), are also under various pressures, from corporate globalization, deforrestation, etc. So too are many other biodiverse regions, such as Indonesia, parts of Africa, and other tropical regions. Comparing actual area of Brazilian portion of the Amazon deforested each year between 1990 and 2009 including the projected rate based on Brazilian government targets to reduce deforestation by 80% by 2020, and cumulative total deforestation as a percentage of the estimated original extent of the Brazilian Amazon (4.1 million km2). [Brazilian National Space Research Agency (INPE), graph compiled by Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2010) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, May 2010, p.33]


Sustainable Forests or Exponential Profits?:

  • Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest: “It is true that cutting down forests or converting natural forests into monocultures of pine and eucalyptus for industrial raw material generates revenues and growth. But this growth is based on robbing the forest of its biodiversity and its capacity to conserve soil and water. This growth is based on robbing forest communities of their sources of food, fodder, fuel, fiber, medicine, and security from floods and drought.”
  • The overly corporate-led form of globalization that we see today also affects how natural resources are used and what priorities they are used for.
  • We hear more about sustainable forestry practices by the large logging multinationals. However, what does that really mean? Who is it sustainable for? Society and the environment, or for the logging companies? By replanting trees that will grow quickly and allow them to be felled for “sustained” logging sounds like a good strategy. However, the trees that are favored for this (eucalyptus) require a lot of water to grow so quickly. As John Madeley points out: “[T]he [eucalyptus] trees achieve this rapid growth by tapping large quantities of groundwater, impoverishing surrounding vegetation and threatening to dry up local water courses.” [John Madeley, Big Business Poor Peoples; The Impact of Transnational Corporations on the World’s Poor, p76]
  • Madeley continues by describing the impact that the use of chemicals to treat woodpulp from the eucalyptus has on local fisheries and on food production. This has had terrible effects on indigenous people within such regions. 10 years on from the above, Inter Press Service notes similar things, as activists around the Amazon complain about tree plantations.

Illegal Timber Trade On A Large Scale:

  • Some government institutions even buy illegal timber from pristine forests. For example, it is claimed that UK buys all of its Mahogany from pristine forests in Brazil where 80% of all timber is traded illegally. Even though Brazil has now tried to introduce a moratorium on Mahogany logging for two years, this has been slammed by some as too little, too late.

Legal Timber Trade On A Large Scale:

The world environmental situation is likely to be further aggravated by the increasingly rapid, large scale global extinction of species. It occurred in the 20th century at a rate that was a thousand times higher than the average rate during the preceding 65 million years. This is likely to destabilize various ecosystems including agricultural systems.

…In a slow extinction, various balancing mechanisms can develop. Noone knows what will be the result of this extremely rapid extinction rate. What is known, for sure, is that the world ecological system has been kept in balance through a very complex and multifaceted interaction between a huge number of species. This rapid extinction is therefore likely to precipitate collapses of ecosystems at a global scale. This is predicted to create large-scale agricultural problems, threatening food supplies to hundreds of millions of people. This ecological prediction does not take into consideration the effects of global warming which will further aggravate the situation.

Industrialized fishing has contributed importantly to mass extinction due to repeatedly failed attempts at limiting the fishing.

A new global study concludes that 90 percent of all large fishes have disappeared from the world’s oceans in the past half century, the devastating result of industrial fishing. The study, which took 10 years to complete and was published in the international journal Nature, paints a grim picture of the Earth’s current populations of such species as sharks, swordfish, tuna and marlin.

…The loss of predatory fishes is likely to cause multiple complex imbalances in marine ecology.

Another cause for extensive fish extinction is the destruction of coral reefs. This is caused by a combination of causes, including warming of oceans, damage from fishing tools and a harmful infection of coral organisms promoted by ocean pollution. It will take hundreds of thousands of years to restore what is now being destroyed in a few decades.

…According to the most comprehensive study done so far in this field, over a million species will be lost in the coming 50 years. The most important cause was found to be climate change.

…NOTE: The above presentation encompasses only the most important and burning global environmental problems. There are several additional ones, especially in the field of chemical pollution that contribute to harm the environment or upset the ecological balance.


Global Diversity Outlook (GBO-3):

The UN’s 3rd Global Biodiversity Outlook, reports that the rate of biodiversity loss has not been reduced because the 5 principle pressures on biodiversity are persistent, even intensifying: (a) Habitat loss and degradation due to overpopulation and overconsumption; (b) Climate change (a consequence of Population and Economic Growth Agenda); (c) Excessive nutrient load and other forms of pollution (a consequence of Population and Economic Growth Agenda); (d) Over-exploitation and unsustainable use (a consequence of Population and Economic Growth Agenda); (e) Invasive alien species. Most governments report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that these pressures are affecting biodiversity in their country (see p. 55 of the report).

The Global Biodiversity Outlook is the flagship publication of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Drawing on a range of information sources, including National Reports, biodiversity indicators information, scientific literature, and a study assessing biodiversity scenarios for the future, the third edition of Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3 PDF) summarizes the latest data on status and trends of biodiversity and draws conclusions for the future strategy of the Convention.

Its goals are to: (1) Promote the conservation of the biological diversity of ecosystems, habitats and biomes, (2) Promote the conservation of species diversity; (3) Promote the conservation of genetic diversity; (4) Promote sustainable use anbd consumption; (5) Reduce pressures from habitat loss, land use change and degradation, and unsustainable water use; (6) Control threats from invasive alien species; (7) Address challenges to biodiversity from climate change and pollution; (8) Maintain capacity of ecosystems to deliver goods and services and support livelihoods; (9) Maintain socio-cultural diversity of indigenous and local communities; (1) Ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources; (11) Ensure Parties have improved financial, human, scientific, technical and technological capacity to implement the Convention. It failed to make any significant progress on any of its goals.

Species in all groups with known trends are, on average, being driven closer to extinction, with amphibians facing the greatest risk and warm water reef-building corals showing the most rapid deterioration in status. Among selected vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups, between 12% and 55% of species are currently threatened with extinction. Species of birds and mammals used for food and medicine are on average facing a greater extinction risk than those not used for such purposes. Preliminary assessments suggest that 23% of plant species are threatened.

Biodiversity Loss – Species Extinctions

Species Populations and Extinction Risks:

The population of wild vertebrate species fell by an average of nearly one- third (31%) globally between 1970 and 2006, with the decline especially severe in the tropics (59%) and in freshwater ecosystems (41%).

Observed trends in populations of wild species include: » Farmland bird populations in Europe have declined by on average 50% since 1980. » Bird populations in North American grasslands declined by nearly 40% between 1968 and 2003, showing a slight recovery over the past five years; those in North American dry lands have declined by nearly 30% since the late 1960s. » Of the 1,200 water bird populations with known trends, 44% are in decline. » 42% of all amphibian species and 40% of bird species are declining in population.

Species in all groups with known trends are, on average, being driven closer to extinction, with amphibians facing the greatest risk and warm water reef-building corals showing the most rapid deterioration in status. Among selected vertebrate, invertebrate and plant groups, between 12% and 55% of species are currently threatened with extinction. Species of birds and mammals used for food and medicine are on average facing a greater extinction risk than those not used for such purposes. Preliminary assessments suggest that 23% of plant species are threatened.

Terrestrial Ecosystems:

Tropical forests continue to be lost at a rapid rate, although deforestation has recently slowed in some countries. Net loss of forests has slowed substantially in the past decade, largely due to forest expansion in temperate regions.

Deforestation, mainly conversion of forests to agricultural land, is showing signs of decreasing in several tropical countries [See Box 5 and Figure 7], but continues at an alarmingly high rate. Just under 130,000 square kilometres of forest were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year from 2000 to 2010, compared to nearly 160,000 square kilometres per year in the 1990s.

Savannas and grasslands, while less well documented, have also suffered severe declines.

The extent of other terrestrial habitats is less well documented. It is estimated that more than 95 per cent of North American grasslands have been lost. Cropland and pasture have replaced nearly half of the cerrado, the woodlandsavanna biome of Central Brazil which has an exceptionally rich variety of endemic plant species. Between 2002 and 2008, the cerrado was estimated to have lost more than 14,000 square kilometres per year, or 0.7% of its original extent annually, well above the current rate of loss in the Amazon.

Abandonment of traditional agricultural practices may cause loss of cultural landscapes and associated biodiversity.

Terrestrial habitats have become highly fragmented, threatening the viability of species and their ability to adapt to climate change.

One-quarter of the world’s land is becoming degraded.

The condition of many terrestrial habitats is deteriorating. The Global Analysis of Land Degradation and Improvement estimated that nearly one quarter (24%) of the world’s land area was undergoing degradation, as measured by a decline in primary productivity, over the period 1980-2003. Degrading areas included around 30% of all forests, 20% of cultivated areas and 10% of grasslands.

Despite more than 12 per cent of land now being covered by protected areas, nearly half (44%) of terrestrial eco-regions fall below 10 per cent protection, and many of the most critical sites for biodiversity lie outside protected areas. Of those protected areas where effectiveness of management has been assessed, 13% were judged to be clearly inadequate, while more than one fifth demonstrated sound management, and the remainder were classed as “basic”.

Indigenous and local communities play a significant role in conserving very substantial areas of high biodiversity and cultural value.

Cultural and biological diversity are closely intertwined. Biodiversity is at the centre of many religions and cultures, while worldviews influence biodiversity through cultural taboos and norms which influence how resources are used and managed. As a result for many people biodiversity and culture cannot be considered independently of one another. This is particularly true for the more than 400 million indigenous and local community members for whom the Earth’s biodiversity is not only a source of wellbeing but also the foundation of their cultural and spiritual identities. The close association between biodiversity and culture is particularly apparent in sacred sites, those areas which are held to be of importance because of their religious or spiritual significance. Through the application of traditional knowledge and customs unique and important biodiversity has often been protected and maintained in many of these areas over time. For example:

» In the Kodagu district of Karnataka State, India, sacred groves maintain significant populations of threatened trees such as Actinodaphne lawsonii and Hopea ponga. These groves are also home to unique microfungi.

» In central Tanzania a greater diversity of woody plants exists in sacred groves than in managed forests.

» In Khawa Karpo in the eastern Himalayas trees, found in sacred sites have a greater overall size than those found outside such areas.

» Coral reefs near Kakarotan and Muluk Village in Indonesia are periodically closed to fishing by village elders or chiefs. The reef closures ensure that food resources are available during periods of social significance. The average length and biomass of fish caught in both areas has been found to be greater than that at control sites.

» Strict rituals, specific harvesting requirements and locally enshrined enforcement of permits regulate the amount of bark collected from Rytigynia kigeziensis (right), an endemic tree in the Albertine Rift of western Uganda which plays a central role in local medicine. This keeps bark collection within sustainable limits.

Some Estimated Values of Biodiversity:

» It has been estimated that the real income of poor people in India rises from US$ 60 to $95 when the value of ecosystem services such as water availability, soil fertility and wild foods is taken into account – and that it would cost US$ 120 per capita to replace lost livelihood if these services were denied.

» Insects that carry pollen between crops, especially fruit and vegetables, are estimated to be worth more than US$ 200 billion per year to the global food economy.

» Water catchment services to New Zealand’s Otago region provided by tussock grass habitats in the 22,000 hectare Te Papanui Conservation Park are valued at more than US$ 95 million, based on the cost of providing water by other means.

Inland Water Ecosystems:

Inland water ecosystems have been dramatically altered in recent decades. Wetlands throughout the world have been and continue to be lost at a rapid rate.

Between 56% and 65% of inland water systems suitable for use in intensive agriculture in Europe and North America had been drained by 1985. The respective figures for Asia and South America were 27% and 6%.

» 73% of marshes in northern Greece have been drained since 1930. 60% of the original wetland area of Spain has been lost.

» The Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq lost more than 90% of their original extent between the 1970s and 2002, following a massive and systematic drainage project. Following the fall of the former Iraqi regime in 2003 many drainage structures have been dismantled, and the marshes were reflooded to approximately 58% of their former extent by the end of 2006, with a significant recovery of marsh vegetation.

Water quality shows variable trends, with improvements in some regions and river basins being offset by serious pollution in many densely-populated areas.

Of 292 large river systems, two-thirds have become moderately or highly fragmented by dams and reservoirs.

Inland water ecosystems are often poorly served by the terrestrial protected areas network, which rarely takes account of upstream and downstream impacts. Governments are reporting increased concern about the ecological condition of wetland sites of international importance (Ramsar sites).

Some estimated values of inland water biodiversity:

» The Muthurajawela Marsh, a coastal wetland located in a densely populated area of Northern Sri Lanka, is estimated to be worth US$150 per hectare for its services related to agriculture, fishing and firewood; US$ 1,907 per hectare for preventing flood damage, and US$ 654 per hectare for industrial and domestic wastewater treatment.

» The Okavango Delta in Southern Africa is estimated to generate US$ 32 million per year to local households in Botswana through use of its natural resources, sales and income from the tourism industry. The total economic output of activities associated with the delta is estimated at more than US$ 145 million, or some 2.6% of Botswana’s Gross National Product.

Marine and Coastal EcoSystems:

Coastal habitats such as mangroves, seagrass beds, salt marshes and shellfish reefs continue to decline in extent, threatening highly valuable ecosystem services including the removal of significant quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; but there has been some slowing in the rate of loss of mangrove forests, except in Asia.

Tropical coral reefs have suffered a significant global decline in biodiversity since the 1970s. Although the overall extent of living coral cover has remained roughly in balance since the 1980s, it has not recovered to earlier levels. Even where local recovery has occurred, there is evidence that the new reef structures are more uniform and less diverse than the ones they replaced.

There are increasing grounds for concern about the condition and trends of biodiversity in deepwater habitats, although data are still scarce.

About 80 percent of the world marine fish stocks for which assessment information is available are fully exploited or overexploited.

Fish stocks assessed since 1977 have experienced an 11% decline in total biomass globally, with considerable regional variation. The average maximum size of fish caught declined by 22% since 1959 globally for all assessed communities. There is also an increasing trend of stock collapses over time, with 14% of assessed stocks collapsed in 2007.

Estimated Values of Marine and Coastal Biodiversity:

The world’s fisheries employ approximately 200 million people, provide about 16% of the protein consumed worldwide and have a value estimated at US$ 82 billion.

The value of the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs ranges from more than US$ 18 million per square kilometer per year for natural hazard management, up to US$ 100 million for tourism, more than US$ 5 million for genetic material and bioprospecting and up to US$ 331,800 for fisheries.

The annual economic median value of fisheries supported by mangrove habitats in the Gulf of California has been estimated at US$ 37,500 per hectare of mangrove fringe. The value of mangroves as coastal protection may be as much as US$ 300,000 per kilometre of coastline.

In the ejido (communally owned land) of Mexcaltitan, Nayarit, Mexico, the direct and indirect value of mangroves contribute to 56% of the ejido’s annual wealth increase.

Genetic Diversity:

Genetic diversity is being lost in natural ecosystems and in systems of crop and livestock production. Important progress is being made to conserve plant genetic diversity, especially using ex situ seed banks.

An example of the reduction in crop diversity can be found in China, where the number of local rice varieties being cultivated has declined from 46,000 in the 1950s to slightly more than 1,000 in 2006.

Standardized and high-output systems of animal husbandry have led to an erosion of the genetic diversity of livestock. At least one-fifth of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. The availability of genetic resources better able to support future livelihoods from livestock may be compromised.

Twenty-one per cent of the world’s 7,000 livestock breeds (amongst 35 domesticated species of birds and mammal) are classified as being at risk, and the true figure is likely to be much higher as a further 36 per cent are of unknown risk status.


Current Pressures on Biodiversity and Responses:

The persistence and in some cases intensification of the five principal pressures on biodiversity provide more evidence that the rate of biodiversity loss is not being significantly reduced. The overwhelming majority of governments reporting to the CBD cite these pressures or direct drivers as affecting biodiversity in their countries. They are: » Habitat loss and degradation; » Climate change » Excessive nutrient load and other forms of pollution; » Over-exploitation and unsustainable use; » Invasive alien species.

Habitat Loss and Degradation:

Habitat loss and degradation create the biggest single source of pressure on biodiversity worldwide. For terrestrial ecosystems, habitat loss is largely accounted for by conversion of wild lands to agriculture, which now accounts for some 30% of land globally. In some areas, it has recently been partly driven by the demand for biofuels.

For inland water ecosystems, habitat loss and degradation is largely accounted for by unsustainable water use and drainage for conversion to other land uses, such as agriculture and settlements.

In coastal ecosystems, habitat loss is driven by a range of factors including some forms of mariculture, especially shrimp farms in the tropics where they have often replaced mangroves.

Climate Change:

Climate change is already having an impact on biodiversity, and is projected to become a progressively more significant threat in the coming decades.

Loss of Arctic sea ice threatens biodiversity across an entire biome and beyond. The related pressure of ocean acidification, resulting from higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is also already being observed.

Overexploitation and unsustainable use:

Overexploitation and destructive harvesting practices are at the heart of the threats being imposed in the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems, and there has not been significant reduction in this pressure. Changes to fisheries management in some areas are leading to more sustainable practices, but most stocks still require reduced pressure in order to rebuild. Bushmeat hunting, which provides a significant proportion of protein for many rural households, appears to be taking place at unsustainable levels.

Overexploitation is the major pressure being exerted on marine ecosystems, with marine capture fisheries having quadrupled in size from the early 1950s to the mid 1990s. Total catches have fallen since then despite increased fishing effort, an indication that many stocks have been pushed beyond their capacity to replenish.

The FAO estimates that more than a quarter of marine fish stocks are overexploited (19%), depleted (8%) or recovering from depletion (1%) while more than half are fully exploited.

Pollution and Nutrient Load:

Pollution from nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) and other sources is a continuing and growing threat to biodiversity in terrestrial, inland water and coastal ecosystems.

In inland water and coastal ecosystems, the buildup of phosphorous and nitrogen, mainly through run-off from cropland and sewage pollution, stimulates the growth of algae and some forms of bacteria, threatening valuable ecosystem services in systems such as lakes and coral reefs, and affecting water quality. It also creates “dead zones” in oceans, generally where major rivers reach the sea. In these zones, decomposing algae use up oxygen in the water and leave large areas virtually devoid of marine life. The number of reported dead zones has been roughly doubling every ten years since the 1960s, and by 2007 had reached around 500.

GBO3 – 15: Marine Dead Zones

Invasive Alien Species:

Invasive alien species continue to be a major threat to all types of ecosystems and species. There are no signs of a significant reduction of this pressure on biodiversity, and some indications that it is increasing. Intervention to control alien invasive species has been successful in particular cases, but it is outweighed by the threat to biodiversity from new invasions.

In a sample of 57 countries, more than 542 alien species, including vascular plants, marine and freshwater fish, mammals, birds and amphibians, with a demonstrated impact on biodiversity have been found, with an average of over 50 such species per country (and a range from nine to over 220).

Combined pressures and underlying causes of biodiversity loss:

The direct drivers of biodiversity loss act together to create multiple pressures on biodiversity and ecosystems. Efforts to reduce direct pressures are challenged by the deep-rooted underlying causes or indirect drivers that determine the demand for natural resources and are much more difficult to control. The ecological footprint of humanity exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth by a wider margin than at the time the 2010 target was agreed.

The pressures or drivers outlined above do not act in isolation on biodiversity and ecosystems, but frequently, with one pressure exacerbating the impacts of another. For example:

» Fragmentation of habitats reduces the capacity of species to adapt to climate change, by limiting the possibilities of migration to areas with more suitable conditions.

» Pollution, overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification all combine to weaken the resilience of coral reefs and increase the tendency for them to shift to algae-dominated states with massive loss of biodiversity.

» Increased levels of nutrients combined with the presence of invasive alien species can promote the growth of hardy plants at the expense of native species. Climate change can further exacerbate the problem by making more habitats suitable for invasive species.

» Sea level rise caused by climate change combines with physical alteration of coastal habitats, accelerating change to coastal biodiversity and associated loss of ecosystem services.

An indication of the magnitude of the combined pressures we are placing on biodiversity and ecosystems is provided by humanity’s ecological footprint, a calculation of the area of biologically-productive land and water needed to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. The ecological footprint for 2006, the latest year for which the figure is available, was estimated to exceed the Earth’s biological capacity by 40 per cent. This “overshoot” has increased from some 20 per cent at the time the 2010 biodiversity target was agreed in 2002.

Biodiversity Tipping Point:

A tipping point is defined, for the purposes of this Outlook, as a situation in which an ecosystem experiences a shift to a new state, with significant changes to biodiversity and the services to people it underpins, at a regional or global scale.

Tipping points also have at least one of the following characteristics:

» The change becomes self-perpetuating through so-called positive feedbacks, for example deforestation reduces regional rainfall, which increases fire-risk, which causes forest dieback and further drying.

» There is a threshold beyond which an abrupt shift of ecological states occurs, although the threshold point can rarely be predicted with precision.

» The changes are long-lasting and hard to reverse.

» There is a significant time lag between the pressures driving the change and the appearance of impacts, creating great difficulties in ecological management.

Tipping points are a major concern for scientists, managers and policy–makers, because of their potentially large impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. It can be extremely difficult for societies to adapt to rapid and potentially irreversible shifts in the functioning and character of an ecosystem on which they depend. While it is almost certain that tipping points will occur in the future, the dynamics in most cases cannot yet be predicted with enough precision and advance warning to allow for specific and targeted approaches to avoid them, or to mitigate their impacts. Responsible risk management may therefore require a precautionary approach to human activities known to drive biodiversity loss.

GBO 3 – 16: Tipping Points – Changed State

Terrestrial Ecosystems: There is a high risk of dramatic loss of biodiversity and degradation of services from terrestrial ecosystems if certain thresholds are crossed. » The Amazon forest, due to the interaction of deforestation, fire and climate change, undergoes a widespread dieback, changing from rainforest to savanna or seasonal forest over wide areas, especially in the East and South of the biome. » The Sahel in Africa, under pressure from climate change and over-use of limited land resources, shifts to alternative, degraded states, further driving desertification. » Island ecosystems are afflicted by a cascading set of extinctions and ecosystem instabilities, due to the impact of invasive alien species.

Inland water ecosystems: there is a high risk of dramatic loss of biodiversity and degradation of services from freshwater ecosystems if certain thresholds are crossed. » Freshwater eutrophication caused by the build-up of phosphates and nitrates from agricultural fertilizers, sewage effluent and urban stormwater runoff shifts freshwater bodies, especially lakes, into an algae-dominated (eutrophic) state. » Changing patterns of melting of snow and glaciers inmountain regions, due to climate change, cause irreversible changes to some freshwater ecosystems.

Marine and Coastal Systems: There is a high risk of dramatic loss of biodiversity and degradation from marine and coastal systems if certain thresholds are crossed. » The combined impacts of ocean acidification and warmer sea temperatures make tropical coral reef systems vulnerable to collapse. Coastal wetland systems become reduced to narrow fringes or are lost entirely, in what may be described as a “coastal squeeze” due to sea level rise. » The collapse of large predator species in the oceans, triggered by overexploitation, leads to an ecosystem shift towards the dominance of less desirable, more resilient species such as jellyfish.

Reducing biodiversity loss:

A key lesson from the failure to meet the 2010 biodiversity target is that the urgency of a change of direction must be conveyed to decision-makers beyond the constituency so far involved in the biodiversity convention.

The real benefits of biodiversity, and the costs of its loss, need to be reflected within economic systems and markets.

2010 Biodiversity Target was not met, due to failure to address the underlying causes & failure by leaders to prioritize the importance of biodiversity, while prioritizing corporate bailouts:

For the most part, the underlying causes of biodiversity have not been addressed in a meaningful manner; nor have actions been directed ensuring we continue to receive the benefits from ecosystem services over the long term. Moreover, actions have rarely matched the scale or the magnitude of the challenges they were attempting to address. In the future, in order to ensure that biodiversity is effectively conserved, restored and wisely used, and that it continues to deliver the benefits essential for all people, action must be expanded to additional levels and scales. Direct pressures on biodiversity must continue to be addressed, and actions to improve the state of biodiversity maintained, although on a much larger scale. In addition, actions must be developed to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, and to ensure that biodiversity continues to provide the ecosystem services essential to human wellbeing. [Source: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity].

The overall message of this Outlook is clear. We can no longer see the continued loss of biodiversity as an issue separate from the core concerns of society: to tackle poverty, to improve the health, prosperity and security of present and future generations, and to deal with climate change. Each of those objectives is undermined by current trends in the state of our ecosystems, and each will be greatly strengthened if we finally give biodiversity the priority it deserves.

In 2008-9, the world’s governments rapidly mobilized hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent collapse of a financial system whose flimsy foundations took the markets by surprise. Now we have clear warnings of the potential breaking points towards which we are pushing the ecosystems that have shaped our civilizations. For a fraction of the money summoned up instantly to avoid economic meltdown, we can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems.

GDO-3 Conclusion: Primary Failure to address Underlying causes of Loss of Biodiversity:

Although Biodiversity from terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems provides the basis for ecosystems and the services they provide that underpin all human social and economic well-being; numerous biodiversity related conventions; biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate and the world failed to reach the CBD target of a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010; because of, primarily; a failure to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss.

“In 2002, the world’s leaders agreed to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 .. this third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook concludes that the target has not been met. Moreover, the Outlook warns, the principal pressures leading to biodiversity loss are not just constant but are, in some cases, intensifying.

The consequences of this collective failure, if it is not quickly corrected, will be severe for us all. Biodiversity underpins the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water, health and recreation, and protection from natural disasters. Its loss also affects us culturally and spiritually” – Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General, United Nations; Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3)

Underlying Causes: » Demographic change; » Economic activity; » Levels of international trade; » Per capita consumption patterns, linked to individual wealth; » Cultural and religious factors; » Scientific and technological change.