diversitas conference

What I learnt from the Diversitas Conference, by Harry Biggs
October 25, 2009, 22:50
Filed under: Key topics

Diversitas, an ongoing science project of the International Council of Scientific Unions, has access to some of the most celebrated and thoughtful persons in the conservation and biodiversity field, acting, in my mind, as a sort of loose scholarly “United Nations of Biodiversity”. The meeting they ran in Cape Town had very wide country representation, especially from Europe and Africa. The three-day meeting had excellent plenaries (before morning tea) but then ran up to nine parallel sessions, and was overbusy. My impressions and opinions are below, for those interested in a short feedback. (Experiences of different attendees were likely diverse; these are my ideas alone; and not necessarily endorsed by my employer SANParks)

• Governance issues (esp. science-policy and science-management links) have become far more respectable in such fora, now filling much programme time. For instance, Anantha Duraiappah from Kenya gave a keynote entitled “Managing ecosystem services, institutions, property rights and scales”.
• Gretchen Daily (of ecosystem services and other fame) spoke of mainstreaming conservation “beyond parks, beyond charity, and beyond biodiversity”; while Pavan Sukhdev (a dynamic banker who has thrown his weight fully behind the Diversitas cause) spoke of getting beyond the point where biodiversity is now, merely a “luxury for the rich and a necessity for the poor”. He referred to the increasing use of the concept “ecological infrastructure” as conceptually similar to, say, constructed infrastructure in the traditional sense, and the imperative to invest in maintaining or rehabilitating this. Daily and others are working on the following useful representation of the different processes we have to make work together if we are to succeed. The right-hand part was referred to by others as “the (traditional) science part” and the left-hand part as the part to which we have mostly given too little attention, in attempting to achieve our overall goals:

Much of the meeting was understandably about the difficult field of biodiversity targets. Georgina Mace suggested three types of targets:
BLUE – absolute ecosystem tipping points e.g. rates of climate change too fast
GREEN – societal choices about the desired state e.g. no more bird extinctions
RED – situations we must avoid e.g. imminent coral reef collapse (in my view some overlap with BLUE)

• Sukhdev and many others spoke about TEEB (The economics of ecosystem services and biodiversity), which, although young and developing, promises to make major impacts in our field. See http://www.teebweb.org. Sukhdev pointed to sensible ways to deal complexity, feeling scientists often impeded progress because of what he called the “Popperian trap” of demanding ridiculous levels of proof sometimes even when it was absurd to do so, and when Rome was clearly burning. The ideas in the Precautionary Principle will have to be used, but in a more complexity-friendly way. In my opinion we will as a community have to reconcile these needs, and not only use Mode 1 Science. Importantly, he reflected the invariable TEEB finding that returns on investment for just about all ecosystem services make for very profitable business, suggesting that one day soon these may really take off. My conclusion – perhaps we are poised for major changes in thinking. In additional, many speakers referred to “bundles” of related services as more realistic than looking at one service e.g. carbon sequestration, in isolation – in the same way that multi-species models or interventions often radically change outcomes when compared to single-species ones.

• There was general agreement that we will not reach the 2010 biodiversity targets of the CBD (now also widely embedded elsewhere, for instance under one of the Millenium Development Goals), and Georgina Mace gave a very thoughtful outline of how we will have to modify these for the likely 2020 target to be discussed at the 2010 Conference of Parties.

• As in the case of the biodiversity targets, implementation of most of what we do is messy and requires persistence, experimentation and learning. Watching congresses like this over the last 15 years, I sense a trend in which I think conservation folk are moving further and further out of their traditional “protected area” security zone in an effort to deal with reality. This involves facing up to how poor the global biodiversity outlook is, and requires looking for and taking some encouragement from “patches of hope” – which do exist. I spoke to several people at the meeting who found some sessions entirely depressing – for instance the freshwater symposium session stressed that although “rehabilitation” had been done in several places worldwide according to “best practice” at the time, it seemed that there were almost no biodiversity gains other than aliens or weedy species. The conclusion was – “well if we hadn’t tried those interventions, we wouldn’t have even known they didn’t work” and of course there are now many further ideas which might work – this all underlining how complex, context-sensitive and messy our field really is, though there are likely to be some underlying simplicities we haven’t yet found, or helpful paradigms we are resistant to try. And it’s not only the understanding we (might) have wrong, but also (and perhaps often mainly) ways of deciding and implementing – see footnote. I think we must cultivate fortitude, even fun and humour, amongst ourselves, to help each other deal with this. A great function of such a meeting is for especially emergent professionals to see role models doing so. Tough though it is, those making progress are not morbid.

• Achim Steiner (now Exec Director UNEP) spent his keynote talking about how development and conservation have to, and can, find constructive mutuality. He is concerned that much of the renewed development drive is actually re-initiating old formulae which are not sustainable. At the meeting there was considerable emphasis on appropriate agro-biodiversity and dove-tailing of needs. He also feels that as a community we still see climate change (whatever we think about it) as a hindrance or competitive force to our agenda, rather than as an opportunity. At the meeting, much was made generally of not only brown (e.g. emissions control) and green carbon (e.g. retaining forests) but also blue carbon, or important oceanic mechanisms, and a new book with that name was released there.

• Diversitas have worked hard towards an IPBES (International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) akin to the successful IPCC model. We should all be watching this space closely, but not waiting till it materialises as an excuse to not get on with our own contributions.

• Urban ecology is becoming a big and important field, one with which many of us will need to engage more seriously and more continuously.

• Predictably, smaller and thought-to-be-less-charismatic components of biodiversity are gaining in precedence and the attention they are receiving, a trend irritating some I met on the floor some who claim these are functionally unimportant anyway. There were very spirited plenaries on parasites including their ecological meaning (Andy Dobson) and on below-ground biodiversity (George Brown – Brazil). My opinion is these issues will slowly find their natural position – likely considerably more prominent than before.

If you have got this far, I hope the summary was of some use or interest. If you want to know more about the meeting: http://www.diversitasconference.wordpress.com

Harry Biggs

Footnote: Although nothing to do with the congress, during the week it became known that Elinor Ostrom had won the Nobel Prize for Economics – she is “one of us” in the sense that she works in natural resource management (as a political scientist), Some commentators ascribe this somewhat surprising choice to the sea-change she might bring about with all the evidence she has assembled that communities can sometimes – remember how seldom we actually have proper success stories – effectively manage their resources (cf. the ‘rational selfish person paradigm’ that dominates mainstream economics). We can perhaps implement very differently, and it may even work!


October 16, 2009, 10:31
Filed under: Press releases

EMBARGO: 9.45 a.m. GMT (11.45 a.m. Cape Town), Fri. Oct. 16, 2009

Contacts: Mr. Terry Collins +1-416-538-8712; +1-416-878-8712 (m), tc@tca.tc
Ms. Marina Joubert, +27 83 409 4254, marina@southernscience.co.za

Economist Pavan Sukhdev, other experts and conference officials will take part in a news conference Friday Oct. 16 at 11.45 am local time (GMT + 2 hours), Room 1.93, Cape Town International Convention Centre.
Media wishing to join by teleconference may dial in on +1-303-664-6043, ID 8309014.

What are Coral Reef Services Worth?
$130,000 to $1.2 million / ht / yr: Experts

Economists, Assigning Values to “Ecosystem Services,” Report Staggering Totals and Rates of Return on Investment

600 biodiversity experts from 70 countries issue Cape Town declaration

Risks of Importing Disease Grow with Rising Pet Trade

Experts concluding the global DIVERSITAS biodiversity conference today in Cape Town described preliminary research revealing jaw-dropping dollar values of the “ecosystem services” of biomes like forests and coral reefs – including food, pollution treatment and climate regulation.

Undertaken to help societies make better-informed choices, the economic research shows a single hectare of coral reef, for example, provides annual services to humans valued at US $130,000 on average, rising to as much as $1.2 million.

The work provides insights into the worth of ecosystems in human economic terms, says economist Pavan Sukhdev of UNEP, head of a Cambridge, England-based project called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).

Based on analysis of more than 80 coral reef valuation studies, the worth of services per hectare of coral reef breaks down as follows:

* Food, raw materials, ornamental resources: average $1,100 (up to $6,000);
* Climate regulation, moderation of extreme events, waste treatment / water purification, biological control: average $26,000 (up to $35,000);
* Cultural services (eg. recreation / tourism): average $88,700 (up to $1.1 million)
* Maintenance of genetic diversity: average $13,500 (up to $57,000)

Taken together, coral reef services worldwide have an average annual value estimated at $172 billion, says Mr. Sukhdev.

He notes the growing scientific agreement that coral reefs are unlikely to survive if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels exceed 350 parts per million. Negotiators of a new climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, however, “would be proud” to achieve an agreement that limits atmospheric carbon to 450 parts per million, he says, calling that “a death sentence on the world’s coral reefs.”

Halving the destruction of tropical forests, meanwhile, would allow them to continue absorbing roughly 4.8 gigatonnes of carbon per year, slow the rise of atmospheric carbon levels and forestall anticipated climate change damage. Halving deforestation has a net present value estimated at $3.7 trillion, according to research.

The economic choice of turning such forests into timber or clearing them to make way for agriculture is “not very clever,” says Mr. Sukhdev. “Stopping deforestation offers an excellent cost-benefit ratio.”

“Investment in protected areas holds exceptional high returns,” he says. Previous studies have shown that investing $45 billion “could secure nature-based services worth some $4.5 to 5.2 trillion annually.” Among the specific examples cited: planting mangroves along a coastline in Vietnam cost $1.1 million but saved $ 7.3 million annually in dyke maintenance.

Examples of a rate of return on investments in ecosystem restoration:
* Coral reefs: 7%, (with a cost-benefit ratio of 2.8);
* Rivers: 27%, (cost-benefit ratio 15.5);
* Tropical forests: 50% (cost-benefit ratio 37.3);
* Mangroves: 40%, (cost-benefit ratio 26.4);
* Grasslands: 79%, (cost-benefit ratio 75.1).
(see full graph online at: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_OJDD8RZoYCo/StcIYKMgwmI/AAAAAAAABX8/8FvgumI3wgY/s1600-h/TTB+Graph.jpg)

TEEB is a UNEP-led project supported by the European Commission, German Federal Ministry for the Environment, and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Biodiversity and society: understanding connections, adapting to change.

Over 600 scientists attending the international 2nd Open Science Conference Oct. 13-16 hosted by DIVERSITAS, a Paris-based NGO, issued a concluding statement confirming that, “as we approach the 2010 Year of Biodiversity … the fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate.”

“At the same time, we are discovering ever more about biodiversity and the benefits it provides to people. It is clear that biodiversity loss erodes the integrity of ecosystems and their capacity to adapt in a changing world. It represents a serious risk to human wellbeing and a squandering of current assets and future opportunities.

“The biodiversity scientists gathered here commit themselves to finding practical solutions to this problem. They will do so by: increasing shared knowledge of biodiversity and its functions; helping to develop systems for monitoring the biodiversity of the planet; and being responsive to the knowledge needs of society with clear communication of findings.

“The proposed mechanism for the ongoing evaluation and communication of scientific evidence on these issues is an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). We call on governments and non-governmental organisations to join us in establishing IPBES as soon as possible. We urge policy-makers to act swiftly and effectively on the already-established and future findings relating to ways of limiting further biodiversity loss and restoring ecosystem services.”

“Meeting current and future human needs must make adequate provision for the complex web of life of which people are an integral part. People everywhere must give effect to their shared desire for a biologically-rich and productive planet through their individual decisions and political voices.”

Growth of global pet trade risks health

Among dozens of conference presentations, US experts warned that the risk of importing diseases is rising in tandem with growth of the multi-billion dollar pet animal trade.

The US alone imports some 200 million such animals annually from 194 countries. Most were captured from the wild and most arrived from Southeast Asia, a hotspot incubator of emerging diseases.

A study lead by Katherine Smith of Brown University found just 13% of animal shipments allowed in were classified by species – most were admitted with vague labels like “live vertebrate” or “fish,” raising concerns about not just disease but potentially introducing invasive species that could harm native ecosystems, wildlife and domestic animals.

She estimated 2,241 non-native species were imported to the U.S. between 2000 and 2006 and says there have been 335 outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases since 1940, 75% of which had animal origins. Among the outbreaks: a 2003 US outbreak of monkeypox traced to African rodents imported for pets, SARS in 2002, West Nile Virus in 1999, smallpox in the 1500s and syphilis in the 1400s.

“The threat to public health is real, as the majority of emerging diseases come from wildlife,” says Dr. Smith, who listed dozens of fevers, encephalitis, Leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis among the health threats.

Just 100 inspectors at US borders are tasked with inspecting the shipments, she adds. From 2000 through 2006, the U.S. imported more than 1.5 billion live animals, roughly equal to five animals for every citizen.

Pet shops could face tighter restrictions if the controversial Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act gets voted into law.

The researchers call for:
• Stricter record keeping to help assess risk on animal imports.
• Third-party surveillance and testing for both known and unknown pathogens at the exportation points in foreign countries.
• Greater education of citizens, importers, veterinarians and pet industry advocates about the dangers of diseases that emerge from wildlife and that can make their way to domesticated animals and humans.
The conference concluded with a major plenary, chaired by leading expert Lijbert Brussaard, of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, on ways to reconcile the competing Millennium Development Goals of protecting biodiversity, reducing world hunger and alleviating poverty.

Among other measures, the experts called for a reduction in the estimated 30 to 40% of food lost through spoilage and waste.

* * * * *

DIVERSITAS (the Latin word for diversity) brings together biological, ecological and social sciences to address key questions that underlie our limited understanding of the current situation.
• How much biodiversity exists and how does its change or loss affect the system as a whole?
• How does biodiversity correspond to the delivery of ecosystem functions and services, and what is the true value of these commodities?
• How can scientific investigation support policy and decision making to encourage more sustainable use of biodiversity?
Armed with a broader, deeper knowledge of biodiversity, we will be better equipped to safeguard the future of Earth’s natural resources.

For more information: http://www.diversitas-osc.org

October 16, 2009, 10:27
Filed under: Conference announcements, Key topics, Press releases

As we approach the 2010 Year of Biodiversity, the DIVERSITAS second Open Science Conference confirms that the fabric out of which the Earth system is woven is unravelling at an accelerating rate. At the same time, we are discovering ever more about biodiversity and the benefits it provides to people. It is clear that biodiversity loss erodes the integrity of ecosystems and their capacity to adapt in a changing world. It represents a serious risk to human wellbeing and a squandering of current assets and future opportunities.

The biodiversity scientists gathered here commit themselves to finding practical solutions to this problem. They will do so by: increasing shared knowledge of biodiversity and its functions; helping to develop systems for monitoring the biodiversity of the planet; and being responsive to the knowledge needs of society with clear communication of findings.

We welcome the proposed mechanism for the ongoing evaluation and communication of scientific evidence on these issues – the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). We call on governments to establish IPBES as soon as possible and we encourage all scientists to lend their full support. We urge policy-makers to act swiftly and effectively on the already-established and future findings relating to ways of limiting further biodiversity loss and restoring ecosystem services.

Meeting current and future human needs must make adequate provision for the complex web of life of which people are an integral part. People everywhere must give effect to their shared desire for a biologically-rich and productive planet through their individual decisions and actions.

October 14, 2009, 22:51
Filed under: Key speakers

The economic rationale for sustaining biodiversity and the pressing need to make policymakers and the public more aware of how we all depend on biodiversity for survival and well-being were key themes of the opening session at the 2009 Diversitas Open Science Conference today. Close to 700 environmental scientists from across the globe converged in Cape Town to deliberate on global solutions to halt accelerating biodiversity loss.

“We need to bring biodiversity into focus and understand the connections between what is happening on our planet and society at large,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. “Investing in the ecological infrastructure of this planet is as important as building schools, roads, hospitals and houses. It will cost a lot more in future if we don’t act now,” he explained. “Forests, for example, are important ecosystems that provide valuable services to the planet through its ability to capture and store carbon. Nature has perfected carbon capturing and storage over millions of years. We must use this as an instrument to combat climate change.”

Several speakers called on the scientific community to tackle biodiversity with a sense of urgency. “Scientists have to be the provocateurs as well as the solution providers,” said Professor Hal Mooney of Stanford University and chair of the Diversitas scientific committee. He emphasised that biodiversity is not about a few endagered species, but rather about the building blocks of life that sustains all Earth’s ecosystems that provide us with water, food, fuel, clean air, etc. Mooney called for workable solutions that will move away from conflict between conservation and development, and that will allow competing needs to be met.

Several speakers echoed the need for greater public engagement explaining that everyone has the right to be aware of the consequences of our actions for the planet. “No one will be immune to biodiversity loss,” said Dr David Cooper of the Convention on Biological Diversity. As in the case of climate change, public pressure can be a powerful catalyst for the political will to tackle biodiversity challenges. Dr Cooper and other speakers referred to the upcoming International Year of Biodiversity in 2010. They urged the audience to use this platform to get biodiversity on the public agenda and harness widespread support for action.

Several discussions also called for support for plans to establish an inter-governmental process to engage governments in biodiversity. It is hoped that an Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will be sanctioned during 2010. This will provide a global, credible platform for scientists to raise issues and present challenges and solutions. This body will act as a “radar and driver” for biodiversity in the future. “It will be like a dream come true, but it will also challenge scientists to become much better at conveying science to policymakers,” said Dr Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of Diversitas.

By Marina Joubert, Wednesday 14 October 2009

Healthy Oceans New Key to Combating Climate Change
October 14, 2009, 18:01
Filed under: Press releases

Healthy Oceans New Key to Combating Climate Change

Seagrasses to Salt Marshes Among the Most Cost Effective Carbon Capture and Storage Systems on the Planet.

But Urgent Action Needed to Maintain and Restore ‘Blue Carbon’ Sinks Warns Three UN Agencies

Cape Town, Nairobi, Rome, Paris, 14 October 2009—A ‘Blue Carbon’ fund able to invest in the maintenance and rehabilitation of key marine ecosystems should be considered by governments keen to combat climate change.
A new Rapid Response Report released today estimates that carbon emissions–equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector–are being captured and stored by marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses.

A combination of reducing deforestation on land, allied to restoring the coverage and health of these marine ecosystems could deliver up to 25% of the emissions reductions needed to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change.

But the report, produced by three United Nations agencies and leading scientists and launched during National Marine Month in South Africa, warns that far from maintaining and enhancing these natural carbon sinks humanity is damaging and degrading them at an accelerating rate.

It estimates that up to seven percent of these ‘blue carbon sinks’ are being lost annually, or seven times the rate of loss of 50 years ago.

“If more action is not taken to sustain these vital ecosystems, most may be lost within two decades,” says the report Blue Carbon: the Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon launched by the United Nations Environment Programe (UNEP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “We already know that marine ecosystems are multi-trillion dollar assets linked to sectors such as tourism, coastal defense, fisheries and water purification services—now it is emerging that they are natural allies against climate change.”

“Indeed this report estimates that halting losses and catalyzing the recovery of marine ecosystems might contribute to offsetting up to seven percent of current fossil fuel emissions and at a fraction of the costs of technologies to capture and store carbon at power stations,” he added.

The new report comes less than 60 days before the crucial UN climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen where governments need to Seal the Deal on a comprehensive new agreement.

It is likely that nations will agree to pay developing economies to maintain the ‘green carbon’ in forests under a partnership—Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Mr Steiner added: “The links between deforestation and climate change are firmly on the political radar and there is optimism that REDD will form part of a new global climate partnership, but the role and the opportunity presented by other ecosystems are still overlooked.”

“If the world is to decisively deal with climate change, every source of emissions and every option for reducing these should be scientifically evaluated and brought to the international community’s attention—that should include all the colours of carbon including now blue carbon linked with the seas and oceans.”

Dr. Carlos Duarte, one of the chief scientists of the report based at the Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies in Spain, said: “We know that land use change is part of the climate change challenge. Perhaps less well known is that the global loss of what we could call our “blue carbon sinks’, such as mangroves and seagrasses, are actually among the key components of the increase in greenhouse concentrations from all land use changes.”

Christian Nellemann, Editor of the Rapid Response report, said: “There is an urgency to act now to maintain and enhance these carbon sinks – since the 1940s, over 30% of mangroves; close to 25% of salt marshes and over 30% of seagrass meadows have been lost. We are losing these crucial ecosystems much faster than rainforests and at the very time we need them – on current trends they may be all largely lost within a couple of decades.”

“Fishing and aquaculture communities will be heavily impacted by climate change and have a key role to play in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems in the face of change,” said Ichiro Nomura, Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture at FAO.

“An ecosystem approach to the management of ocean and coastal ecosystems cannot only enhance their natural carbon sink capacity, but also offers a way to safeguard and strengthen food and livelihood security for fisheries-dependent communities,” he added.

Officials with UNESCO also underlined the important role the oceans are already playing in offsetting climate change and its impacts on humanity, but warn that this is having consequences too.

“Because the ocean has already absorbed 82% of the total additional energy accumulated in the planet due to global warming, it is fair to say that the ocean has already spared us from dangerous climate change,” says Patricio Bernal, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, IOC Executive Secretary. “But each day we are essentially dumping 25 million tons of carbon into the ocean. As a consequence, the ocean is turning more acidic, posing a huge threat to organisms with calcareous structures.”

Luciano Fonseca of UNESCO-IOC explains that the ocean’s absorption of the planet’s excess heat “is like a glass of whisky with ice. As long as the ice is there the whisky stays cool. The energy that is going into the glass, from your hand and room temperature, is working to convert the ice to liquid. As soon as the ice melts the whisky turns warm.”

Key Findings from the Rapid Assessment Report

• Of all the biological carbon, or green carbon captured in the world, over half (55%) is captured by marine-living organisms – not on land – hence the new term blue carbon.
• Marine-living organisms range from plankton and bacteria to seagrasses, saltmarsh plants and mangrove forests.
• The ocean’s vegetative habitats, in particular, mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses, cover less than 1% of the seabed.
• These form the planet’s blue carbon sinks and account for over half of all carbon storage in ocean sediment and perhaps as much as over 70%.
• They comprise only 0.05% of the plant biomass on land, but store a comparable amount of carbon per year, and thus rank among the most intense carbon sinks on the planet.
• Blue carbon sinks and estuaries capture and store between 235-450 Teragrams (Tg C) or 870 to 1,650 million tons of CO2 every year – or the equivalent of up to near half of the emissions from the entire global transport sector which is estimated annually at around 1,000 Tg C, or around 3,700 million tons of CO2, and rising.
• Preventing the further loss and degradation of these ecosystems and catalyzing their recovery can contribute to offsetting 3-7% of current fossil fuel emissions (totaling 7,200 Tg C a year or around 27,000 million tons) of CO2 in two decades – over half of that projected for reducing rainforest deforestation.
• The effect would be equivalent to at least 10% of the reductions needed to keep concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere below 450 ppm needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
• Combined with action under REDD, halting the degradation and restoring lost marine ecosystems might deliver up to 25% of emission reductions needed to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius.
• Unlike carbon capture and storage on land, where the carbon may be locked away for decades or centuries, that stored in the oceans remains for millennia.

Currently, on average, between 2-7% of our blue carbon sinks are lost annually, a seven-fold increase compared to only half a century ago.

• In parts of southeast Asia losses of mangroves since the 1940s are as high as 90%.
• Large-scale restoration of mangroves has been successfully achieved in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and salt-marsh restoration in Europe and the United States.

Countries with extensive, shallow coastal areas that could consider enhancing marine carbon sinks include India; many countries in southeast Asia; those on the Black Sea; in West Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, eastern United States and Russia.

Maintaining and Recovering Marine Ecosystems—the Wider Benefits
Coastal waters account for just seven percent of the total area of the ocean. However, the productivity of ecosystems such as coral reefs, and these blue carbon sinks mean that this small area forms the basis of the world’s primary fishing grounds, supplying an estimated 50% of the world’s fisheries.

They provide vital nutrition for close to three billion people, as well as 50% of animal protein and minerals to 400 million people of the least developed countries in the world.

The coastal zones, of which these blue carbon sinks are central for productivity, deliver a wide range of benefits to human society. These include filtering water, reducing effects of coastal pollution, nutrient loading, sedimentation, protecting the coast from erosion and buffering the effects of extreme weather events.

• Coastal ecosystem services have been estimated to be worth over US$25,000 billion annually, ranking among the most economically valuable of all ecosystems.
• Much of the degradation of these ecosystems not only comes from unsustainable natural resource use practices, but also from poor watershed management, poor coastal development practices and poor waste management.
• The protection and restoration of coastal zones, through coordinated integrated management would also have significant and multiple benefits for health, labour productivity and food security of communities in these areas.

Notes to Editors
The report “Blue Carbon – The Role of Healthy Oceans in Binding Carbon” can be accessed at http://www.unep.org or at http://www.grida.no, including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.
The report will be released at 10.30 am Oct. 14 at the DIVERSITAS biodiversity science conference, Cape Town Conference Center, South Africa (www.diversitas-osc.org) or http://dev.grida.no/RRAbluecarbon/pdfs/update/
The Blue Carbon report compliments a report launched by UNEP on the occasion of World Environment Day 2009 called The Natural Fix?—The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation http://www.unep.org/pdf/BioseqRRA_scr.pdf

For more information, please contact
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, Email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Catherina (Marina) Joubert, Acting Communications Person for the Diversitas Conference and SOUTHERN SCIENCE, South Africa, Science Communication Editor of SciDev.Net, Tel: +27 83 409 4254, Email: marina@southernscience.co.za

Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, on Tel: +254 20 762 3088, Mobile: +254 (0)728 600 494, Email: anne-france.white@unep.org

October 14, 2009, 17:58
Filed under: Key speakers

Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

To the 2nd Diversitas Open Science Conference

14 October 2009, Cape Town—Distinguished delegates, members of the international scientific community, ladies and gentlemen,

Your press release issued on Sunday in some ways said it all—seven years after the World Summit on Sustainable Development there is a public acceptance that the biodiversity target will not be met.

The fact that reversing the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010 is going to be missed does not however undermine the goal–or can it.

Everyone in this room knows that acceptance on this issue is no strategy at all.

Anyone around the world who is interested in alleviating poverty and combating climate to realizing the next generation of smart and sustainable products based on genetics and biomimicry knows that any more biodiversity losses make zero social, environmental or economic sense.

This meeting here in Cape Town must be part of the launch pad that takes the international response on biodiversity and ecosystem loss from the incremental to the strategic and comprehensive.

An occasion where scientists, national and multilateral institutions like UNEP, the private sector and civil society begin making sure that 2010 is not a cause for hand-wringing.

But a year where many busy hands start making this challenge a lighter and finally achievable one.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The New Economics of Climate Change
There are reasons for cautioned optimism—optimism in part born from the fact that some of the missing links in the evolution of a more comprehensive response are emerging.

Firstly we gather here just weeks before more than 190 countries meet in Copenhagen at the crucial UN climate convention meeting.

As head of the UN’s environment body, I confess that my optimism over what will be achieved in December waxes and wanes at turns.

There remain big uncertainties still over developed country commitments in terms of emission reductions and financial support for developing economies.

But then you read the ‘Yes We Can’ editorial by John Kerry and Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, in Sunday’s New York Times.

Or the statement last Saturday in Beijing by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and one feels the chance of a scientifically-credible deal may be possible or at least less implausible.
Part of that agreement and perhaps one of the less controversial issues politically is Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).
Whether as a fund or as a market mechanism, it represents both a climate mitigation and adaptation strategy—but also one that can, if carefully and creatively designed assist in meeting the 2010 target.
Assist too in bolstering the ecosystem services of forests alongside generating revenue flows from North to South and employment in natural resource management.
I delighted that UNEP is hosting the UNREDD secretariat for this partnership with FAO and UNDP and that preparations with the nine pilot countries are advancing.
Colours of Carbon—Blue to Green
This morning UNEP, in collaboration with the FAO; the UNESCO’s International Oceanographic Commission, bodies such as IUCN and scientists, will launch a Blue Carbon report.

It estimates that carbon emissions–equal to half the annual emissions of the global transport sector–are being captured and stored by marine ecosystems such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrasses.

A combination of reducing deforestation on land, allied to restoring the coverage and health of these marine ecosystems could deliver up to 25 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change.

Meanwhile UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, has launched a Carbon Benefits Project with farmers and landowners in Western Kenya; China, Niger and Nigeria.
It aims to rapidly develop the land use standard or calculator that will allow investors to know how much carbon is being sequestered under different management regimes.

On World Environment Day 2009, we also launched The Natural Fix. Again looking at the carbon capture and storage potential of other terrestrial ecosystems.

If REDD can get the green light, then perhaps other ecosystems can benefit from carbon investments too.
Some developed economies are preparing to put billions of dollars into carbon capture and storage (CCS) at power stations—why not invest some of this in nature-based CCS.

The natural one is tried and tested over millennia and I do not have to tell the audience here of the multiple, what I would call Green Economy, benefits.

TEEB—an Investment Prospectus
Investments flows in a sense only work if investors—be they the public or the private sector—can properly value their assets.

This has been an evolving field but one which is gathering a sense of maturity through the work of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) funded by the European Commission, governments such as Germany and the UK and now hosted by UNEP.

I am sure the work of Pavan Sukhdev and his team is well known to many of you here.
The final report, scheduled for 2010 just before the crucial Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, will I am sure be groundbreaking.

The ability of this work to transform the economic relationship between humanity and ecosystems and their services is only now being glimpsed—not least through data showing that perhaps as much as $5 trillion-worth of natural assets are being lost annually or more than in the financial crisis.

ABS-The CBD’s Financial Mechanism
In mentioning the CBD meeting, held in the International Year of Biodiversity, I must also mention another economic issue which like the 2010 target has been too long in discussion with less than optimal action.
That of course is an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources (ABS).
Governments are, it seems, finally and meaningfully wrestling with this third pillar of the CBD—its unrealized financial mechanism in many ways.

2010 really needs to bring closure on this because it is not only under cutting or clear-cutting the ability of the CBD to reach its full potential, but also having economic impacts on developed and developing economies alike.

ICPE, the integrated pest control institute now has case upon case of examples where developing economies are refusing to share genetic resources in the absence of an international regime.
So less and less access for developed economies and companies and less and less benefit sharing for developing ones.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Economics go hand in hand with science and visa versa—we know the power that can be brought in terms of catalyzing a political response.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hosted by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organisation, took the contested science and subjected it to the most intense peer review in a way that no government could walk away from the reality.

Brought too the economic costs of action and inaction to the political and negotiating table.
Is this a model for catalyzing a political response in terms of the natural world?

As Director General of IUCN, I remained to be convinced that an Intergovernmental Platform or Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was needed.

I have changed my tune. Indeed it should and must be a way forward—if not I would be keen to know what is.

The number of scientific assessments, their focus and assumptions, are simply too bewildering and fragmented.

Should an environment minister in Burkina Faso or Bolivia act on hot spots, eco-footprints, protected areas assessments and advice or even UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook or the CBD’s flagship assessments?
There are also gaps and big time-lags from science recognizing that a phenomenon is unfolding, to the point at which it hits a minister’s in-tray or multilateral discussions.

Biofuels are a good example—the implications and possible impacts were being discussed in scientific circles well before—perhaps decades– they came onto the political radar and hit the headlines.

Last week in Nairobi at UNEP’s headquarters, close to 100 governments discussed, assessed and tried to envisage the structure, form and role of a possible IPBES.

By the end only a handful of countries were still unsure—the vast majority is now in favour of such a body, able to strengthen the science policy interface. A final decision will take place at a final meeting in 2010.

An IPBES will need verifiable and reliable monitoring—a topic that I am glad to see is high on this meeting’s agenda.

For perhaps over 30 years, the scientific community has been evolving remote sensing of planet Earth but in the minds of many we have not got as far as was originally thought.

Yes we have a lot of good site-scale monitoring going back in time that allows evaluations and decisions to be made.

But in the absence of consistent and long term-standards and the shifting priorities of space agencies and others, what we have at the moment is costly and sub-optimal.

UNEP fully supports efforts by Diversitas and others to establish a global biodiversity observing system or GEO-BON—with the caveat that it needs to keep the goal posts firmly in the ground so as to provide that comprehensive baseline upon which gene, biodiversity and ecosystem trends can be comprehensively evaluated.
Let me mention perhaps one last reason why I believe there is a renewed interest among policy-makers in biodiversity and ecosystems—human health.
Environmental change is also accelerating and globalizing the spread of diseases—combating them is becoming a costly business.
Whether it be the link between loss of wetlands and the way flu viruses can more easily jump back and forth between domestic fowl and wild birds.
Or the link between Nippah virus and deforestation in Asia
Or bilharzia and dam building, lime’s disease and the disappearance of predators or climate change, deforestation and malaria—bolstering biodiversity and ecosystems have a big and only recently recognized role to play in health and health costs.
It is a card that should and must be more effectively played in the international debate about the value of the planet’s nature-based assets and yet another of the myriad of reasons why they matter to economies, the Millennium Development Goals and effective public policy.
Science can also drive more sustainable agriculture. I find it breathtaking that the strategies and solutions for feeding a growing global population remain largely dominated by more fertilizer, more hybrid seeds, more pesticides—in other words more of the same intensification models of the 20th century.
The way society incentivizes farmers is in many ways forcing them to mine the very inputs that underpin agriculture in the first—from fertile soils and biodiversity above and below ground to wetlands and forests.
In conclusion, the failure to reach the 2010 has to be the spur for transformative change above all on the political front.
Policy-makers may appreciate biodiversity and ecosystems but they tend to appreciate and thus act more comprehensively if the scientific and economic arguments become unavoidable.
I believe those arguments are entering the political and the public domain in ways that perhaps were not quite there when the 2010 target was originally set—but they are coming loud and fast.
I would ask you to look to the environmental programme of the UN as part of that change and as an old partner but with a new sense of urgency, direction and creative vision—one where in cooperation with organizations such as Diversitas we can shape the arguments for action ever more crisply and define the choices ever more clearly.

Climate change is not going to simply go away like a bad nightmare in the morning if governments walk away from Copenhagen without a serious deal. It is the same in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem loss.

You can stop the clocks, but you cannot stop the climate clock ticking without transformative and committed action—neither can you reverse the rate of biodiversity loss.

And the longer the world waits, the more difficult, costly and damaging both these issues will become.

Both Copenhagen and the International Year of Biodiversity represent opportunities to plan the future in a managed and considered way; otherwise the future will plan itself.

And this may well overwhelm the coping capacities of our national and global institutions, forcing societies to react and to scramble to deal with events that already unfolding and challenging the very foundations upon which modern civilization, as it has evolved today, depends.
2010 may not be the year when we reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity—but needs to be the year when we reversed the response to that loss.

For More Information Please Contact:
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media on Tel: +254 733 632755, Email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

World won’t meet 2010 Biodiversty targets
October 11, 2009, 23:56
Filed under: Biodiversity loss, Press releases

NEWS RELEASE; EMBARGO: 6 p.m. GMT, Sun. Oct. 11, 2009

Contacts: Mr. Terry Collins +1-416-538-8712; +1-416-878-8712 (m), tc@tca.tc
Ms. Marina Joubert, +27 83 409 4254, marina@southernscience.co.za
Follow news through the conference at https://diversitasconference.wordpress.com

World Will Miss 2010 Target To Stem Biodiversity Loss

• As losses accelerate, missed target is “certain”
• Growing water needs, mismanagement leading to “catastrophic decline” in freshwater biodiversity
• Biodiversity science: evolving from sounding alarms to finding solutions
• New systems being created to monitor biodiversity, inform policy
• 600 experts meet in Cape Town Oct. 13-16

The world will miss its agreed target to stem biodiversity loss by next year, according to experts convening in Cape Town for a landmark conference devoted to biodiversity science.

The goal was agreed at the 6th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in April 2003. Some 123 world ministers committed to “achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the local, national and regional levels, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”

“We will certainly miss the target for reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and therefore also miss the 2015 environmental targets within the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to improve health and livelihoods for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” says Georgina Mace of Imperial College, London, and Vice-Chair of the international DIVERSITAS program, which is convening its 2nd Open Science Conference Oct. 13-16 with 600 experts from around the world.

“It is hard to image a more important priority than protecting the ecosystem services underpinned by biodiversity,” says Prof. Mace. “Biodiversity is fundamental to humans having food, fuel, clean water and a habitable climate.”

“Yet changes to ecosystems and losses of biodiversity have continued to accelerate. Since 1992, even the most conservative estimates agree that an area of tropical rainforest greater than the size of California has been converted mostly for food and fuel. Species extinction rates are at least 100 times those in pre-human times and are expected to continue to increase.”

However, she adds, “the situation is not hopeless. There are many steps available that would help but we cannot dawdle. Meaningful action should have started years ago. The next best time is now.”

The conference, to be opened by UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, will call for new more science-based targets.

“A great deal of awareness-raising is still much needed with respect to the planetary threat posed by the loss of so many species. The focus of biodiversity science today, though, is evolving from describing problems to policy relevant problem solving,” says Stanford University Prof. Hal Mooney, DIVERSITAS Chair.

“Experts are rising to the immense challenge, developing interdisciplinary, science-based solutions to the crisis while building new mechanisms to accelerate progress. Biodiversity scientists are becoming more engaged in policy debates.”

Five roundtables between top science and policy specialists are scheduled on key issues such as efforts to create a science-based global biodiversity observing system (GEO-BON) to improve both coverage and consistency in observations at ground level and via remote sensing.

Says DIVERSITAS vice-chair Prof. Robert Scholes, who heads both GEO-BON and the local organization of the Cape Town conference: “GEO-BON will help give us a comprehensive baseline against which scientists can track biodiversity trends and evaluate the status of everything from genes to ecosystem services. The lack of such information became acutely apparent during preparation of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and in formulating the CBD’s 2010 targets.”

Others, meanwhile, are creating an international mechanism to unify the voice of the biodiversity science community to better inform policy making, its function akin to that of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In Nairobi Oct. 5-9, environment ministers from countries the world over will consider the creation of such a body, called IPBES (the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), which would require UN General Assembly approval.

Interdisciplinary work underway to address key issue areas also include:
* How to demonstrate and quantify the economic costs and impacts on human welfare globally and locally due to biodiversity loss and ecosystems degradation (being conducted under the TEEB Initiative);
* How to understand, manage and conserve ecosystem services including, for example, the creation of economic incentives to prevent habitat destruction;
* How to share the benefits from the use of genetic resources fairly and equitably; and
* How to improve research institutions and the international stewardship of biodiversity;

Silent crisis: freshwater species “the most threatened on Earth”

Massive mismanagement and growing human needs for water are causing freshwater ecosystems to collapse, making freshwater species the most threatened on Earth with extinction rates 4 to 6 times higher than their terrestrial and marine cousins, according to conference experts.

Klement Tockner of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin says that while freshwater ecosystems cover only 0.8% of the earth’s surface, they contain roughly 10% of all animals, including more than 35% of all vertebrates.

“There is clear and growing scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major freshwater biodiversity crisis,” says Prof. Tockner. “However, few are aware of the catastrophic decline in freshwater biodiversity at both local and global scale. Threats to freshwater biodiversity have now grown to a global scale.”

The human implications of this trend are “immense,” he adds, because freshwater species in rivers, lakes, ground waters, and wetlands provide a diverse array of vital natural services – more than any other ecosystem type.

The problem puts billions of people at risk as biodiversity loss affects water purification, disease regulation, subsistence agriculture and fishing. Some experts predict that by 2025 not a single Chinese river will reach the sea except during floods with tremendous effects for coastal fisheries in China.

Prof. Tockner says freshwater ecosystems and their species also absorb and bury an significant volume of the planet’s carbon — about 200 million tonnes, or almost 3% of the carbon humans add annually to the atmosphere.

“Although small in area, these freshwater aquatic systems can affect regional carbon balances,” he says.

“Freshwater ecosystems will be the first victims of both climate change and rising demands on water supplies. And the pace of extinctions is quickening – especially in hot spot areas around the Mediterranean, in Central America, China and throughout Southeast Asia.”

“Despite their pivotal ecological and economic importance, freshwater ecosystems have not been of primary concern in policy making,” adds Prof. Tockner. “Only recently did the European Union take the initiative to improve this situation through the EC Biodiversity Strategy. And in the U.S., recent Supreme Court decisions have made wetlands and small streams more vulnerable to loss.”

Prof. Tockner, with colleague Charles Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, will present research at one of 25 conference symposia and invite fellow scientists to help formulate clear government policy recommendations and future research priorities.

Other conference presentations will cover issues ranging from biology to economics and international law, with emphasis on the positive benefits of conservation.

Showcased topics include:

• Assessments of the ecological and economic risks of the rising global trade in wildlife, many of which carry potentially harmful diseases. The USA alone imported almost 1.5 billion live animals between 2000 and 2006, experts say, with inadequate regard to the risks involved;

• The release next year of a report by the UN Convention on Biodiversity called the Global Biodiversity Outlook, to include a major focus on catastrophic biodiversity “tipping points,” which complicate predictions. Such thresholds, if breached, will make global change impacts difficult to control, and slow and expensive to reverse.

• Biodiversity and carbon: How biodiversity loss impacts rates of natural carbon sequestration and carbon cycling on land and in the ocean. Efforts are underway to understand how levels of biodiversity correspond to atmospheric carbon levels throughout Earth’s history in order to better predict the impact of biodiversity on today’s rising carbon dioxide concentrations. Other scientists will warn that bioenergy and artificial carbon sequestration projects should be preceded by greater understanding of the environmental pressures these will create.

With respect to biodiversity and human health, scientist Peter Daszak of the US-based Wildlife Trust, says the emergence of new human diseases from wildlife such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola, and H5N1 avian influenza is a significant threat not just to public health and conservation but also the global economy.

Such deadly diseases impede wildlife conservation as pressure builds to eradicate reservoir populations and cause disruption to agriculture and trade, tourism and other key economies.

“The single outbreak of SARS cost US $30-50 billion and a truly pandemic H5N1 outbreak is likely to cost between US$300-800 billion,” says Dr. Daszak.

He argues that disease emergence and spread can be predicted based on human environmental and demographic changes that underlie the emergence of these diseases.

“Such studies may ultimately allow us to identify the likely region of origin of the next zoonosis and provide strategies to prevent disease emergence and spread.”

The conference will conclude with a major plenary, chaired by leading expert Lijbert Brussaard, of Wageningen University, The Netherlands, on ways to reconcile the competing Millennium Development Goals of protecting biodiversity, reducing world hunger and alleviating poverty.

“Ecosystem services are difficult to value, which has led to policy neglect and the irreversible loss of species vital to a well-functioning environment,” says Anne Larigauderie, Executive Director of DIVERSITAS.

“It’s important for experts to simply exchange the results of their latest research, but the goal of this conference is to collect insights of practical use to policy makers, and to demonstrate the social benefits of investment in species conservation,” she says.

DIVERSITAS 2nd Open Science Conference
“Understanding connections, adapting to change”
Cape Town International Convention Centre, South Africa; 13-16 October, 2009

DIVERSITAS Open Science Conferences aim to assemble key members of the global scientific and policy community working on biodiversity science.

The 1st DIVERSITAS Open Science Conference, with the theme “Integrating biodiversity science for human well being” took place in Oaxaca, Mexico from 9-12 November 2005. More than 600 world scientists considered overarching issues of biodiversity research resulting in the Oaxaca Declaration of Biodiversity.

Sampling of Symposia Topics:
Strengthening biodiversity science
How biodiversity evolved;
Creating biodiversity inventories;
Drivers of, monitoring and predicting biodiversity changes;
Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and services
Supporting the science – policy interface
Putting a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services;
Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
Economic incentives to preserve biodiversity; and
Biodiversity and development
Integrated approaches to topical issues
Biodiversity and health;
Freshwater, marine, and mountain biodiversity; and
Invasive species

DIVERSITAS (the Latin word for diversity) brings together biological, ecological and social sciences to address key questions that underlie our limited understanding of the current situation.
• How much biodiversity exists and how does its change or loss affect the system as a whole?
• How does biodiversity correspond to the delivery of ecosystem functions and services, and what is the true value of these commodities?
• How can scientific investigation support policy and decision making to encourage more sustainable use of biodiversity?
Armed with a broader, deeper knowledge of biodiversity, we will be better equipped to safeguard the future of Earth’s natural resources.