CIB researchers contribute to Science article about failed biodiversity targets

Two researchers of the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University, Prof Melodie McGeoch and Dr Di Spear, have contributed to a new article in the leading journal Science that reports on the failure by world leaders to make good on their commitments to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

They are among a group of 41 scientists contributing to the paper Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines that found that specific targets made by world leaders through the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have not been met, and that there is instead an alarming decline in biodiversity worldwide.

“Although the outcome of this study is negative, it represents an opportunity for countries, such as South Africa, to benchmark themselves against global progress to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss locally,” says Prof McGeoch, who is a scientist at South African National Parks and an associate of the Centre for Invasion Biology (CIB) at Stellenbosch University.

Along with colleague Dr Spear, also of the CIB, they contributed insights about the influence of invasive species on global biodiversity.

According to Prof McGeoch the paper provides evidence-based motivation for stepping up conservation efforts at national and sub-national level, and for translating global policy into local action. “This is where conservation is most effective”, she believes.

Compiling over 30 indicators – measures of different aspects of biodiversity, including changes in species’ populations and risk of extinction, habitat extent and community composition – the study found no evidence for a significant reduction in the rate of decline of biodiversity, and that the pressures facing biodiversity continue to increase. The synthesis provides overwhelming evidence that the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss has not been achieved.

“Our analysis shows that governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002: biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever, and we have made little headway in reducing the pressures on species, habitats and ecosystems”, said Dr Stuart Butchart, of the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and BirdLife International, and the paper’s lead author.

“Our data show that 2010 will not be the year that biodiversity loss was halted, but it needs to be the year in which we start taking the issue seriously and substantially increase our efforts to take care of what is left of our planet,” said Dr Butchart

The indicators included in the study were developed and synthesised through the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership – a collaboration of over 40 international organisations and agencies, including the Global Invasive Species Programme, developing global biodiversity indicators and the leading source of information on trends in global biodiversity.

“Since 1970, we have reduced animal populations by 30%, the area of mangroves and sea grasses by 20% and the coverage of living corals by 40%”, said the United Nations Environment Programme’s Chief Scientist Prof Joseph Alcamo. “These losses are clearly unsustainable, since biodiversity makes a key contribution to human well-being and sustainable development, as recognised by the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

The results from this study feed into Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, the flagship publication of the CBD, released in Nairobi on 10 May (today), when government representatives from around the world meet to discuss the 2010 target and how to address the biodiversity crisis.

“Although nations have put in place some significant policies to slow biodiversity declines, these have been woefully inadequate, and the gap between the pressures on biodiversity and the responses is getting ever wider”, said Dr Butchart.

The study recognised that there have been some important local or national successes in tackling biodiversity loss, including the designation of many protected areas (e.g. South Africa’s Protected Areas Expansion Strategy has resulted in significantly more land area protected in the country), the recovery of particular species (e.g. European Bison) and the prevention of some extinctions (e.g. Black Stilt of New Zealand).

But despite these encouraging achievements, efforts to address the loss of biodiversity need to be substantially strengthened, and sustained investment in coherent global biodiversity monitoring and indicators is essential to track and improve the effectiveness of these responses.

“While many responses have been in the right direction, the relevant policies have been inadequately targeted, implemented and funded. Above all, biodiversity concerns must be integrated across all parts of government and business, and the economic value of biodiversity needs to be accounted for adequately in decision making. Only then will we be able to address the problem”, said Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary to the Convention on Biological Diversity.