diversitas conference

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


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