Ian Spellerberg : Never mind climate change, what about biodiversity change?

Al Morrison. Photo / Supplied
Al Morrison. Photo / Supplied

This post originally appeared on Sciblogs.co.nz.

Al Morrison (Director-General, Department of Conservation) ruffled few feathers in Wellington recently, so I am told, as a result of some comments he made at the Annual State of the Nation's Environment Address held at Lincoln University.

He said: "Living in harmony with nature's systems; living sustainably, is not apart from the economy, it's a key component of it. Nature's systems lie at the base of any economy. If they are not functioning efficiently, then the economy cannot function efficiently. If we destroy them we destroy the economy."

His timing was impeccable because it preceded the UN Biodiversity Global Summit held late last month in Nagoya, Japan. That same meeting was a catalyst for many organisations to publicise the continuing unsustainable and inequitable use of nature around the globe.

For example, prestigious organisations such as Kew Gardens, London's Natural History Museum and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) say that one in five of the world's plant species is threatened with extinction. The participants representing 193 Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity were confronted with stark statements such as that made by Achim Steiner (Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme) when he warned "without urgent action to tackle the soaring rate of biodiversity loss, many of the ecosystems that underpin the global economy would collapse".

One of the press releases from the Global Biodiversity Summit talks about a "new era of living in harmony with nature". These are not just hollow words because many initiatives including a possible Biodiversity Decade. All have been planned to highlight the importance of biodiversity for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

For example, the Strategic Plan for biodiversity 2011-2020 has no less than 20 targets and five strategic goals. Those goals are particularly noteworthy and include: addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; reduce pressures and promote sustainable use; improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding species and genetic diversity; enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystems services; enhance the implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

In New Zealand, ecological experts have been continuing the discussion about the biodiversity imperative this week. This is 'Biodiversity: 2010 and beyond'; a conference being held at the University of Otago (22-25 November) to acknowledge the UN Year of Biodiversity.

The Ecological Society of New Zealand has assembled a wealth of speakers including some from overseas. Professor Dave Raffaelli (University of York) will talk about maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems services in production landscapes. The contents of the scientific programme reflect the five global biodiversity strategic goals. For example, there are sessions on 'biodiversity and production lands: the benefits and risks', 'biodiversity and ecosystem functioning', 'cultural aspects of biodiversity', and 'Urban ecology: where social and biological sciences need to meet'.

Conserving nature underpins the economy

In many respects, New Zealand is seen as a world leader in nature conservation - but let's not forget that nature conservation is not a luxury. It is the most fundamental of all the pillars of sustainability. We have achieved a lot in nature conservation but it's more than just about saving iconic species. Al Morrison reminded us of that fact. A lot more has to be done to conserve and ensure sustainable, equitable use of nature's goods and services.

Diversity in nature is the key, whether it is diversity of biota in the soils, genetic diversity or diversity within ecosystems. New Zealand is also faced with managing many introduced pests and diseases. Finally we should not forget the need to address historical losses in the diversity of our native flora. One first step could be for all councils to adopt a locally sourced native tree only policy for all public places.

With all these national and global biodiversity activities, it's not surprising that the BBC's 'Planet Under Pressure' series includes 'Biodiversity' as one of the six environmental areas where pressure is looming. What makes biodiversity a greater environmental concern than climate change is that sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity is linked to all the other five areas (food, water, energy, climate change and pollution).

Ian Spellerberg is Professor of Nature Conservation at Lincoln University and is an Honorary Fellow of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand. This post originally appeared on Sciblogs, New Zealand's largest science blogging network.

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