Biodiversity crucial to lives of billions, says UNEP

| 12th January 2010

Forests protect against soil erosion, recycle rainwater and absorb carbon dioxide emissions

Ecosystems are buffering humanity against the worst impacts of global warming and also alleviating poverty, says United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

The continued loss of animal and plant species, and ecosystems such as forests, is causing poverty as well as environmental damage, said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Speaking at the launch of the UN's international year of biodiversity in Berlin this week, Steiner re-iterated the economic value of coral and forest ecosystems.

Value of nature

According to estimates from the groundbreaking Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study published last year, coral reefs generate up to $189,000 per hectare in costal defence and even more in fisheries and tourism revenues. While continued deforestation and forest degradation is costing $2-4 trillion a year.

'The world's biodiversity and ecosystems might seem abstract and remote to many people. But there is nothing abstract about their role in economies and in the lives of billions of people,' said Steiner.

'The range of benefits generated by these ecosystems and the biodiversity underpinning them are all too often invisible and mainly undervalued by those in charge of national economies and international development support,' he added.

Coral and forests

Steiner said one fifth of coral reefs were already degraded or at risk of collapse due to over-fishing, pollution or coastal developments.

'If you factor the true value of coral reefs into economic planning, it is likely that far more rational and sustainable choices would be made in terms of development, emissions and pollution control and resource management.

'It is a similar story in respect to all of the planet’s nature-based assets, from forests and freshwaters to mountains and soils,' he said, adding that 15 per cent of the annual global carbon dioxide emissions currently absorbed by forests.

New body

UNEP is also due to decide next month whether to set up a body similar to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for biodiversity. The proposed International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) would use the latest science to help drive forward policy recommendations.

Steiner said he hoped the new body would 'de-mystify terms such as biodiversity and ecosystems', and start convincing countries to include the value of natural capital in their national accounts and economic decisions.

Friends of the Earth said previous UN moves on biodiversity had not been successful.

'The 193 countries known as Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity have so far failed to significantly reduce the rate at which biodiversity is being lost, despite their 2003 pledge to reduce these rates by 2010,' said Friends of the Earth International’s coordinator of the Forest and Biodiversity Programme Isaac Rojas.

Useful links

Friends of the Earth

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity report (TEEB)

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