Banking on Biodiversity, cont.

F For Effort

In May 2002, the world’s governments gathered in The Hague, Netherlands, to address the planet’s biodiversity crisis. They declared that by 2010, they would significantly slow the rate of biodiversity loss. But subsequent reviews presented a gloomy outlook.

In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a $24 million, United Nations–supported research program that focused on past ecosystem changes and made projections about the future, released the results of its first four-year study. Societies, it said, were responsible for the wide­spread crippling of the world’s ecosystems. About 60 percent of global ecosystem services—the goods and benefits people get from biological communities and their environment—had been damaged. The assessment projected that things could get even worse in the next 50 years.

Three years later, the United Nations Environment Programme, with financial support from the European Commission, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway, issued an interim report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study. The idea for the study grew out of a 2007 meeting of environment ministers from the G8 countries (plus the five major newly industrializing countries) in Potsdam, Germany. TEEB highlighted the cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and its impact on human well-being. For example, in clearing forests for fuel or to make room for growing urban areas, grazing cattle or agricultural crops, enormous amounts of “natural capital” were being thrown away. According to TEEB, $2 trillion to $4.5 trillion is lost every year from deforestation alone.

By the time the Convention on Biological Diversity released the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 in May 2010, it was clear that the brakes had failed. The planet was losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate.

“Current trends are bringing us closer to a number of potential tipping points that would catastrophically reduce the capacity of ecosystems to provide these essential services,” wrote Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations.

“One of the main conclusions of all this is that the convention was not talking to the right people,” says Anne Larigauderie, the executive director of DIVERSITAS, an international biodiversity science program. “We need to mainstream biodiversity, to open the discourse and bring the knowledge into all departments—transportation, agriculture, infrastructure, climate change—that deal with economic activities. That is where the major efforts need to go.”

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What is Nature Worth

Plants, animals, even entire ecosystems are disappearing So what? "What Is Nature Worth" offers a three-minute look at what we’re REALLY losing – and what we can do about it. Watch the video


Putting Numbers to Nature

China
PHOTO BY CHRISTINE TAM

Ecosystems provides valuable services, but we rarely give them credit for doing so when we make decisions that affect their fate. By providing tools for quantifying nature’s benefits, the Natural Capital Project shows that protecting healthy ecosystems can often be the economically best choice.
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