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Loss of Biodiversity Threatens Livelihoods of World’s Poorest

May 30, 2008

By Emily Dugan

Mass extinctions of plants and animals could have a severe impact on the living standards of the poorest people on the planet and cost up to 40bn a year, the first major report into the economic impact of biodiversity loss has found.

Global GDP could decline by 7 per cent by 2050 if ecosystem decline isn’t tackled, according to the study, unveiled at the United Nations’ talks on biological diversity in Bonn yesterday.

Scientists say biodiversity is facing its greatest threat in millions of years, with three species dying out every hour. Now, the economic cost of such destruction has been assessed.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) review analyses the financial impact of the loss of natural life. It is hoped that, like the Stern Review of Climate Change, which revolutionised the way countries looked at the economics of global warming, this report will galvanise government support for tackling the problem. Mankind is causing almost 40bn-worth of damage to land ecosystems each year, which is directly responsible for crises such as rocketing food prices.

“Urgent remedial action is essential because species loss and ecosystem degradation are inextricably linked to human well-being,” said the report’s author Pavan Sukhdev.

The Earth could lose 11 per cent of its natural areas by 2050 if we fail to combat loss of species diversity. Agriculture, the expansion of infrastructure and climate change would all contribute to this decline. “The loss of biodiversity and ecosystems is a threat to the functioning of our planet, our economy and society,” the study, funded by the EU and the German government, warns.

Environmentalists welcomed the report’s “Stern-like” recognition of biodiversity. The subject has failed to draw the same funding and interest as climate change despite links between the issues. “Biodiversity is not just a green issue – it is life support, providing food, fuel, fibre, medicines, pollination, soil fertility and water, said Gordon Shepherd, WWF International’s director of international policy.

“We have to integrate biodiversity in all policies. The loss of biodiversity is now affecting the economy through the depletion of fish stocks from overfishing and illegal fishing to agricultural activities polluting river basins. The Teeb report recognises the economic value of biodiversity for the millions of people directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods.”

Overfishing is one of the key areas explored in the study, which says all of the world’s fisheries are likely to have collapsed within 50 years if current trends are not reversed. For the billion people who rely on fish protein, this would have a devastating impact.

Deforestation, by those seeking a profit from the woodlands, also causes a decline in species by destroying their habitats. It makes the ground less productive for cultivation and fewer trees results in less CO2 being absorbed, thus aiding global warming. This week, 60 countries meeting in Bonn pledged to halt net deforestation by 2020.

Earlier, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, in a lecture at King’s College London, called for “nothing short of a green revolution” to tackle the effects of climate change. He said: “We need action to tackle the immediate food crisis and the long-term impact climate change will have on food supplies.”

Putting a price on species richness

*MEDICINES

Plants in the rainforests are crucial for both traditional and modern medicine. The rosy periwinkle, for example, is a key ingredient in anti-cancer drugs.

Estimated value $1.58m (799,000)

*EROSION CONTROL

Forests such as the Masoala National Park, in Madagascar, naturally protect the soil from erosion, which in turn reduces the sedimentation of rice paddies and fish nurseries.

Estimated value $380,000

*CARBON STORAGE

Avoiding deforestation helps lower the impact of climate change, as trees keep down CO2 levels. One rainforest can have an enormous role in curbing atmospheric CO2.

Estimated value $105.1m

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.




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