Wildlife populations in freefall: A call for action

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Luc Bas, Director of the Brussels office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) [Photo: IUCN]

Luc Bas, Director of the Brussels office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. [IUCN]

The need to preserve the ecosystems on which human prosperity depend is well accepted by the environmental community, but is still not clear to corporate CEOs, national leaders, and the public at large, writes Luc Bas.

By Luc Bas, Director, IUCN EU Representative Office

The 10th Living Planet Report, released a few days ago, has quickly made global headlines amidst news of war and economic crises that often overshadow environmental issues.

Shocking statistics that more than half of global vertebrate species populations have declined in just 40 years force us to reflect on how we let this happen and what we can now really do to halt the decline. The data, provided by the WWF’s Living Planet Index and the Global Footprint Network, concludes that terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have declined by 39%, 76% and 39% respectively. The study prominently used data from the IUCN Red List, which has been instrumental to the knowledge base of biodiversity conservation worldwide for the past 50 years.

As society’s ecological footprint (that is, our impact on nature and its resources) continues to grow, we are reminded that functioning ecosystems are the foundation of all life and prosperity on earth.

Today, we already need 1.5 earths to sustain our current consumption patterns. The problem, of course, is that continued unsustainable economic growth, coupled with a steadily growing population, can make the challenge to curb this pattern seem overwhelming.

In the environmental realm, the need for change is widely accepted, but it’s time to drive this message home beyond this community. It is just as relevant to corporate CEOs, national leaders, and of course the public at large. It’s time to actively voice that humanity cannot thrive in a fundamentally dysfunctional system.

The European proposed course of action is an ecosystem-based approach which is reflected in the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. It aims to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe and restore them to the extent possible by 2020, while also stepping up the EU’s efforts in preventing global biodiversity loss.

In order to extend our reach beyond the conservation community and affect change in businesses and among decision makers, we need to emphasize the crucial role of the Natura2000 network of protected areas, established under the Habitats and Birds Directives. This European approach is unique in the global context, and has been instrumental in attempting to protect ecosystems and their threatened species and habitats, recognising that protected areas cannot exist in isolation, but must be integrated into societal landscapes to ensure that their management is both ecologically and economically sustainable.

The benefits that result from preserving healthy ecosystems are vital for human well-being and prosperity, as nature delivers essential services that provide solutions to global challenges such as climate change, resilience to natural disasters, and water, air and food security.

In order to close the implementation gap and fully achieve the targets in the current political environment, we will need to boost our communication of these benefits urgently.

Nature and protected areas are more than just a luxury to be enjoyed on weekends; they are vital for our survival as a species. The upcoming IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney in November will celebrate protected areas and inspire solutions for today’s most pressing global challenges by recognizing nature conservation and ecosystem management as the basis for sustainable development.

A recent conference in the European Parliament organised by the European Commission, the Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development and IUCN, demonstrated the opportunities and benefits of such nature-based solutions. Implementing these can help us tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems in ways that not only safeguard the environment and halt biodiversity loss but also provide economic and social benefits by creating jobs and stimulating innovation.

In order to promote nature-based solutions for future development, we must ensure that we move away from GDP as the major policy guidance and account for the essential services nature provides.

It’s time to make a change and abandon the all too widely accepted dichotomy of economy and ecology. As the Living Planet Report points out “Ecosystems sustain societies that create economies. It does not work the other way round.”

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