A conifer forest in the Swiss Alps | Credit: Wikimedai Commons
By Richard Johnson
IDN-InDepth News Analysis
GENEVA (IDN) - Ecosystems -- and the biodiversity that underpins them -- support livelihoods around the world and generate services worth between $21 trillion and up to $72 trillion a year. This is comparable to World Gross National Income in 2008 of $58 trillion, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Nevertheless, nearly 17,000 plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction, while the number of species under threat of being wiped out is also growing by the day. Indications are that the world will not meet the 2010 target to slow down the decline of biodiversity, as agreed on under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
To halt the worldwide loss of biodiversity, which is resulting in a heavy human cost, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is therefore proposing a rescue package similar to that introduced after the global financial crisis.
Such a package is urgently needed, he told a high-level General Assembly event on biodiversity, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 22. "We are bankrupting our natural economy," he added.
Describing ecosystems as "our natural capital", Ban stressed that a loss of biodiversity can lead to the failure of crops, a drop in profits, a deepening of poverty and economic decline. "Allowing (our natural infrastructure) to decline is like throwing money out of the window," he said.
Although investment to reverse biodiversity decline has increased, the main causes of the decline -- high consumption rates, habitat loss, pollution and climate change -- are not adequately being tackled. Ban called on world leaders to commit to reducing biodiversity loss. "This will be your legacy -- your gift for generations to come."
Ban's call is supported by Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), which is urging the heads of government and state to "commit to taking firm and immediate steps to halt the alarming biodiversity loss worldwide".
Valuing biodiversity and related 'ecosystem services' is a key issue. According to FoEI, existing financial incentives mostly harm biodiversity conservation instead of supporting it, which they should. Biodiversity conservation must be supported but biodiversity should not have a 'price tag' nor become 'for sale', warns Friends of the Earth International.
“The debate on biodiversity should not be reduced to just the economic benefits brought by biodiversity. The UN needs to discuss how to strengthen local communities' and Indigenous Peoples initiatives that have contributed to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the construction of a fairer and sustainable world," says FoEI.
"To continue discussing only about the economic benefits of ecosystem services means to follow the path of privatization that benefits transnational corporations instead of local communities and Indigenous Peoples," said Isaac Rojas, the coordinator for Friends of the Earth International's programme on Forests and Biodiversity.
"Governments need to acknowledge that market-based mechanisms and the commodification of biodiversity have failed both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation," added Rojas.
"Biodiversity is the basis of our life. To preserve this valuable treasure for our children, we need Heads of State to acknowledge this, and credibly commit themselves to solving these issues," said Friedrich Wulf, Friends of the Earth Europe's biodiversity campaigner.
The next Conference of the Parties to the biodiversity convention will be held in Nagoya, Japan, in October.
FoEI says that so far the expectations for the October meeting are very low. It seems unlikely that it will make substantial progress towards ensuring fair and sustainable solutions to biodiversity loss, or towards ensuring support for the communities that depend on it.
On September 2, Friends of the Earth International celebrated the international day against tree plantations, an yearly event aimed at exposing that large-scale plantations cause grave problems for local people and the environment.
"Friends of the Earth International groups are taking action around the globe to expose that large-scale plantations cause grave problems for local people and the environment. This year our main activities are taking place in Brazil, where tree plantations are a major concern for local people and the environment," Rojas said.
"Some policy tools to address deforestation negotiated in the UN Climate Convention are particularly dangerous because they consider industrial tree plantations as a solution to the climate crisis, which is absurd," added Rojas.
The UN mechanism known as 'REDD' (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) is particularly dangerous, for instance because it could reward those engaged in logging and starting large scale plantations whilst ignoring countries and communities that have low deforestation rates and live sustainably.
"The main drivers of the current expansion of industrial tree plantations are big transnational forestry and cellulose corporations along with financial institutions such as the World Bank and even the UN Food and Agriculture Organization," said Sebastian Valdomir, coordinator for Friends of the Earth International's programme on Economic Justice and Resisting Neoliberalism.
"The push for tree plantations is based on false promises of job creation, sustainable development, climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection. But testimonies and case studies compiled by Friends of the Earth groups show that plantations have very severe impacts on local people and the environment alike," he added.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) promotes tree plantations and labels them 'planted forests'. "Initiatives such as the FAO World Forest Week (October 4-8, 2010) and the “International Year of Forests” (2011) should give a voice to the tens of thousands of people affected by tree plantations around the world. Instead, they support big transnational forestry corporations and their damaging large scale plantations," said Valdomir.
Large scale tree plantations are incompatible with the urgently needed solutions to the climate and biodiversity crisis. The solutions include:
-- Enforcing and promoting 'community based-forest governance' (regulations and practices used by many communities for the conservation and sustainable use of the forests with which they coexist).
-- Promoting 'food sovereignty' (the right of peoples to sufficient, nutritious, healthy food that is produced in an ecologically and culturally appropriate way).
Friends of the Earth International is campaigning globally to expose the impacts of large scale plantations, for instance recently exposing corporations such as Stora Enso. "We are also exposing the damages caused by palm oil plantations in Asia and agrofuels plantations in Africa." (IDN-InDepthNews/22.09.2010)
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