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  • Rushmi Rosairo

Triple Bottom Tuesday>>> The Planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction is Approaching

Picture Credit: Hans Isaacson

The current state of the planet is disreputable, to say the least. The rapidly increasing biodiversity collapse that is glaring holes at the back of our heads has been confirmed by experts as one of the most urgent threats, in addition to climate change.

Now when someone thinks of biodiversity decline, animals such as Tigers and Polar bears come to mind. However, biodiversity is much more complex than just these creatures, it refers to a variety of life on earth. From the very noticeable ones such as large animals, humans and gigantic trees to the smallest of microscopic organisms. All these come together to make up ecosystems that play a big role in maintaining life on earth.

Biodiversity collapse continues to worsen due to five main drivers; habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species (any species that significantly modifies or disrupts the ecosystems that it colonises, in this case, the invasive species being humans), and climate change associated with global warming. This is all brought on by activities such as human population growth, increase in consumption and reduced resource efficiency.

Despite commitments made by world leaders a decade or so ago, there doesn’t seem to be any significant development compared to the scale of the problem. Reports show that governments around the world spend USD $500 billion per year on environmentally harmful initiatives.

Picture Credit: Johny Goerend

Since 1500, earth has lost around a tenth of its two million known species. In 2020 alone, scientists declared more than 100 species to be extinct, with up to one million species facing extinction, many within decades. Although, despite overall failure, reports highlight areas of progress around the world, little glimpses of hope showing that people have the power and resources to protect and restore nature to its former glory, without further obliterating it. An estimated 11 to 25 species of birds and mammals have been prevented from going extinct over the last decade; a small amount compared to the number of extinctions, but it is still a very much welcome progress.

In Japan 2010, Aichi, almost every country in the world (196 countries) signed on to twenty goals under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. When assessing the progress of those goals under the convention, it is shown that the world is not doing nearly as much as it should be. At a global level, only six out of twenty goals have been partially achieved and none were fully achieved.

“Some progress has been made, but it is not good enough”, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the leader of the U.N. convention said.

Within 2022, countries are expected to negotiate and adopt a final version of the framework for a new set of biodiversity goals called the ‘post-2020’ global biodiversity framework. This will be at the 15th conference of parties of the convention, to be held in China. The new framework is intended to set biodiversity goals across all sectors under Sustainable Development Goals.

Human activity such as unsustainable farming, overfishing, burning of fossil fuels and so on is causing a wave of extinctions and as a result, throws off the balance of multiple ecosystems considerably. This causes a ripple effect that threatens humans as well.

Biodiversity is as crucial for our existence as it is for the flora and fauna making up the rest of earths inhabitants. We humans depend on these species for our basic needs, to cleanse the water we drink, and even hold the soil in place (plants hold the soil in place with their roots and prevent landslides), among other things. Between 1998 and 2017, 4.8 million people were affected by landslides, and more that 18,000 deaths have occurred.

Picture Credit: mandy zhu

“Loss of biological diversity due to species extinctions is going to have major effects on our planet, and we need to prepare ourselves to deal with them”, said Ecologist Bradley Cardinale of the University of Michigan. “These extinctions may well rank as one of the top five drivers of global change”.

Biodiversity collapse affects us in a more intimate way than what is commonly believed by many. It effects our economies, our way of life, and even our well-being.

Putting aside the obvious use of flora and fauna for food, plants play a massive role in the health sector, an estimate of 50,000 to 70,000 species of plants are harvested and used in traditional as well as modern medicine production all over the world.

Other lesser-known species have a large contribution to our ecosystems as well, such as mangroves that protect the coastline from eroding and natural disasters, namely tsunamis. Similarly, the sensitive microscopic algae and bacteria that keep corals alive.

Without bees pollinating crops and trees which then converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, even the simplest of our basic tasks that keep us alive such as eating and breathing become difficult. Sadly, research suggests that the bee population has decreased by more than 25% over the past few decades.

Picture Credit: Damien TUPINIER

Studies have shown that the continued loss of biodiversity will undermine our ability to reducing poverty, among other things. According to the IUCN, the World Conservation Union, the monetary value of goods and services provided by ecosystems, amounts to roughly USD $33 trillion per year. Reduced biodiversity means, millions of people will be facing a future where essentials are difficult to come by. Food supplies will be more vulnerable to pests and diseases, and where fresh water will become scarce.

The future seems bleak for planet earth unless we finally do something effective. It is time to properly acknowledge biodiversity collapse as an urgent threat rivaling, yet interconnected with climate change. Many scientists have expressed the importance and called for the CBD to adopt a global measurable target based on species extinction.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the leader of the U.N. convention said; “If the biodiversity community succeeds in coming up with such a great target that resonates with all of us, in the way that the climate change community has, that would be excellent. But it will be difficult to come up with one answer because of the multifaceted nature of the issues on the biodiversity agenda. Unless we can come up with a target that addresses the drivers of biodiversity loss, we need to tread carefully. But if we succeed, that will be the best result possible, because then it becomes a song everyone will sing, and that everybody can align with to deliver that one key message.”

March 1st 2022 | 6:30 PM

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