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Grabbing the biodiversity crisis by the horns

Posted on: 13.06.14 (Last edited) 12 August 2014

Yes, we know there’s a biodiversity crisis looming. But now isn’t the time to bury our heads in the sand. Now’s the time to brave up, get real and get moving says Fauna & Flora International’s Pippa Howard.

Last week, representatives from over 32 countries came together to find a path forward that can halt biodiversity decline, ensure conservation and still meet development objectives around the world.

There was a wealth of intellect, experience and passion present – and a lot of really useful learning, sharing, reflecting and contesting. But there was also a lot of skirting around the edges and back-patting.

For a problem that is so overwhelmingly backed by frightening and urgent evidence, we are clearly failing to grab the bull by the horns.

For all the examples of good practice and good will at the conference, To No Net Loss of Biodiversity and Beyond, there were also cases of stalling, under-shooting goals or completely misplacing objectives in the first place through an absence of will or an admission of defeat.

Strong-minded advocates were almost apologetic about setting clear targets for biodiversity conservation. Some seemed to pander to the complexity and enormity of the challenge rather than accept it, look it in the eyes and take it head on.

It’s akin to setting a meaningless climate change target rather than the target we know we must achieve to avoid catastrophic impacts to society, but it’s not quite close enough to us decision makers and influencers to care enough about.

From deserts to bushvelds, Namibia's landscapes are home to many unique and threatened species. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

From deserts to bushvelds, Namibia's landscapes are home to many unique and threatened species. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Not in my backyard

I wonder: if we were to be directly impacted, what our response would be? What if suddenly half of your home was flooded or removed in a landslide; or your taps just stopped flowing; or you became too ill to work and were unable to support your family; or having food on the table meant growing or hunting it yourself first?

These are the kind of things that are happening to people as a result of biodiversity loss, and to species as a result of loss of habitats and ecosystems.

We need to brave up, get real and get moving. Now. Time has run out and we cannot bury our heads in the sand any longer. Wake up – we have a fundamental problem!

If we want to overcome the biodiversity crisis, here’s what I think we must do:

1. We need to know what biodiversity and ecosystem services we’ve got – even if only at a gross scale.

2. Government, business and society need to acknowledge the importance of biodiversity and ecosystems as fundamental assets that underpin our future sustainability.

3. Governments need to apply policies, rules and regulations to protect and steward these assets.

4. The users of natural resources (companies and society at large) need to honour their importance. They should use or impact biodiversity and ecosystems only if this can be done without compromising their future potential or their use by people who depend on them.

So why isn’t this happening?

The current state of affairs

In today’s world, rather than learn the language of biodiversity conservation, many businesses choose to ignore the issue and put off action.

Governments – instead of acknowledging their irreplaceable natural, cultural and spiritual assets, setting policies and providing governance for sustainable development – are pandering to the dictates of corrupt officials and greedy corporations.

Take Australia as a timely example, where Tasmanian forest could see its protected status downgraded due to pressure from government and the timber industry, and where the Great Barrier Reef could be added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) list of ‘in danger’ sites due to dredging and dumping for a coal port.

Biodiversity and the ecosystems it makes up provide a wealth of services to people, from clean water, to food and fuels, to cultural and spiritual values. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Biodiversity and the ecosystems it makes up provide a wealth of services to people, from clean water, to food and fuels, to cultural and spiritual values. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Meanwhile the finance sector – which can enforce sustainable development through strict criteria attached to their loans – are weakening their standards for projects.

There’s clearly a lot of complacency, pandering and inaction going on here. So how do we turn this around?

Getting our priorities straight

We need to stop procrastinating about evidence and the case for biodiversity management. This stuff really matters and the judgment is in.

Companies, governments and the finance sector must commit to no net loss or net positive impact to biodiversity and ecosystem services – for their own benefit and for the environment. That means that all development must avoid, minimise, restore and offset negative impacts on biodiversity, as well as on the services biodiversity and ecosystems provide, from clean water to spiritual values.

And crucially, all decisions about biodiversity and ecosystems must be made with the full knowledge, consultation and consent of all those who use, influence or benefit from them.

Yes, we’re up against some scary statistics of species decline, habitat loss and ecosystem degradation, but this is not rocket science. We just need to step up as a society and make the right choices.

Written by
Pippa Howard

Pippa Howard is the Director of the Business & Biodiversity Programme. Pippa has degrees in Environmental Science, Marine Biology, Zoology and Development Management. She is a registered Professional Natural Scientist with over 20 years experience in a variety of spheres of biodiversity conservation, environmental management, impact assessment, development and sustainability. She has worked on projects in the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Ecuador, Alaska, Italy, Brazil, Indonesia, Liberia, Guinea, Chile, Spain, Bulgaria, Sultanate of Oman, Indonesia and Singapore. Pippa directs and is responsible for FFI's initiatives and partnerships with multinational corporations and all corporate affairs. She plays a key role in developing business and biodiversity strategy, business plans and financial management; provides specialist input to cross-sector partnerships and multidisciplinary programmes in biodiversity conservation; is a specialist in extractives sector environmental management, biodiversity risk assessment, action planning and management and biodiversity offsets design, management and implementation. Pippa also sits on a number of sectoral initiatives (BBOP, ICMM, GRI, IPIECA) and biodiversity advisory committees of extractive sector companies (De Beers, Rio Tinto, Nexen, Areva).

Other posts by Pippa Howard

Written by

Pippa Howard
Other posts by Pippa Howard
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