The importance of nature to human life is often forgotten, even though we depend on it for fresh water, productive agriculture and many more economic activities. Encouragingly, it seems that there is a growing awareness of the importance of conserving biodiversity amongst the general public, writes Janice Weatherley-Singh.
Janice Weatherley-Singh is the director of European policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society.
It’s no exaggeration to say that global biodiversity is now in crisis. A report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on 6 May, which received significant media attention, announced that a million species worldwide are now threatened with extinction, a staggering figure.
It also concluded that this rate of loss is “undermining nature’s ability to sustain life on Earth,” a sobering thought indeed.
The importance of nature to human life is often forgotten, even though we depend on it for fresh water, productive agriculture and fisheries, and the source materials for many economic activities, as well as to benefit our health and enjoyment through cultural, recreation, leisure, and tourism activities.
In developing countries, the connections between human life and the natural environment are often more visible, as many people in rural areas depend directly on their local environment for their food, medicines, and livelihoods and quickly feel the negative impacts of environmental degradation or loss of access to these resources.
Encouragingly, it seems that there is a growing awareness of the importance of conserving biodiversity amongst the general public. The latest Eurobarometer poll which monitors the attitudes of European Union citizens, for example, showed that public concern is increasing, with 77% totally agreeing that we have a responsibility to look after nature, and 94% of the opinion that economic development should not take precedence over damage to nature in protected areas.
A major gap exists, however, between the scale of the problem, the growing level of citizen concern, and the willingness of politicians and governments to take the bold actions needed to truly tackle the problem.
The issue so often comes back to political will. Governments need to sacrifice short-term economic goals with negative environmental impacts that often only financially benefit a few, in favour of longer-term economic goals that ensure environmental sustainability and benefit wider society.
This was summed up well by Sir Robert Watson, Chair of IPBES, when he discussed the findings of the report. “The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good.”
Unlike climate change, and today’s climate emergency, the crisis facing biodiversity remains largely undiscussed in the political arena, despite the fact that the two are intricately related and consequences of inaction are likely to be just as serious for humankind, as well as for the plants and animals that sustain life.
And with the recent European Parliament elections having been dominated by discussions about Brexit, migration, terrorism, and economic issues, it often seems that there is little scope for other issues to get a look-in.
But the need for the newly elected Parliamentarians to push this issue up the political agenda is more urgent than ever. The previous Parliament is to be commended for passing resolutions on a number of important issues that the European Commission hasn’t implemented yet.
These include: requesting dedicated funding to protect the environment and biodiversity in the next EU development aid budget; a ban on all ivory sales within the EU; and a new EU Action Plan to tackle global deforestation.
Furthermore, the MEPs for Wildlife group, led by MEP Catherine Bearder, played a key role in promoting EU action to tackle wildlife trafficking. If the new Parliament doesn’t represent the views of EU citizens by pushing for these types of initiatives, such action may not be taken in future.
The year 2020 will be a landmark year for political decision-making on the future of biodiversity on the international stage. A number of important summits are coming up, including the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) hosted by China.
The EU needs to bring strong international leadership to these discussions and help negotiate solutions to this pressing global issue. Let’s hope that the incoming Parliamentarians will champion strong EU action to combat global biodiversity loss—an issue that is so important to all of us and indeed for the future of all life on Earth.