Nations fail to meet biodiversity targets

Maupiti reef_1

“Coral reefs are a key canary in the coal mine for gauging the health of the oceans, one of our richest veins of biodiversity,” says John Bruno, who contributed to the Science report. “Problem is, the canary’s singing a lot more quietly now than it was several decades ago.” Above, a coral reef near Maupiti in French Polynesia. (Credit: SF Brit/UNEP)

UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US)—World leaders have failed to deliver on promises made in 2002 to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, and have instead overseen alarming biodiversity declines, according to a new study in the journal Science.

“Biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems,” says lead author Stuart Butchart of the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and BirdLife International.

“Our data show that 2010 will not be the year that biodiversity loss was halted,” he adds, “but it needs to be the year in which we start taking the issue seriously and substantially increase our efforts to take care of what is left of our planet.”

The report is the first assessment of how the targets made through the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have not been met. Among the findings is evidence that the cover of live hard coral on reefs in the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean declined on average by almost 40 percent between 1980 and 2004.

“Coral reefs are a key canary in the coal mine for gauging the health of the oceans, one of our richest veins of biodiversity,” says John Bruno, who contributed to the report and is associate professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Problem is, the canary’s singing a lot more quietly now than it was several decades ago.”

Bruno’s contributions to the new paper reflect similar findings he published in the journal PLOS One earlier this year that showed how dedicated marine reserves can help safeguard coral reefs. That report—the first comprehensive global study to gauge the impact of marine protected areas on the health of corals—revealed that, on average, coral cover in protected areas remained constant, but declined on unprotected reefs.

“This shows that if we walk the talk on protecting biodiversity, it pays off,” Bruno says. “Given the time it takes to maximize these benefits, it makes sense to establish more marine protected areas. Authorities also need to strengthen efforts to enforce the rules in existing areas.”

The indicators included in the Science study were developed and synthesized through the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership—a collaboration of more than 40 international organizations and agencies developing global biodiversity indicators and the leading source of information on trends in global biodiversity.

“Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30 percent, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20 percent, and the coverage of living corals by 40 percent”, says Joseph Alcamo, the United Nations Environment Programme’s chief scientist. “These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human well-being and sustainable development, as recognized by the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

The results from this study feed into Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, the flagship publication of the CBD, to be released in Nairobi on May 10, when government representatives from around the world will meet to discuss the 2010 target and how to address the biodiversity crisis.

“Although nations have put in place some significant policies to slow biodiversity declines, these have been woefully inadequate, and the gap between the pressures on biodiversity and the responses is getting ever wider”, says Butchart.

The study recognized that there have been some important local or national successes in tackling biodiversity loss, including the designation of many protected areas, the recovery of particular species, and the prevention of some extinctions.

But despite these encouraging achievements, efforts to address the loss of biodiversity need to be substantially strengthened, and sustained investment in coherent global biodiversity monitoring and indicators is essential to track and improve the effectiveness of these responses.

“While many responses have been in the right direction, the relevant policies have been inadequately targeted, implemented and funded. Above all, biodiversity concerns must be integrated across all parts of government and business, and the economic value of biodiversity needs to be accounted for adequately in decision making. Only then will we be able to address the problem,” says Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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