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Home » Energy & Environment, Policy

Working to slow the decline in biodiversity

Submitted by on 23 Nov 2010 – 11:42

Photo: Conservative Party.

By Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food  and Rural Affairs

In recent times, species on this planet have been dying out at up to 1000 times the natural rate; and this is predicted to rise dramatically. An estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species – including one in eight of the world’s bird species – face extinction.

Why does this matter? With a recession to recover from, a public debt to tackle and an economy to rebuild, why is addressing biodiversity loss a priority?

Let’s take one threatened species: the honey bee. If it goes, yes, we lose our honey. But as well as making honey, bees pollinate our crops. So their extinction would deprive us of 35 percent of the food we eat. And about £1 billion of our GDP.

That’s one species. What about whole eco-systems? Rainforests, for example?

Rainforests once covered 14 percent of the earth’s land surface; now they cover a mere six percent. And they’re still shrinking. Rainforests are being destroyed for timber, to create grazing land for cattle and to grow crops such as palm oil.

Our last rainforests could be gone in 40 years.

If we lose rainforests we lose the habitat of more than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. Local communities lose an ecosystem that has met their basic needs for thousands of years. And we also lose the lungs of our planet: more than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest. That oxygen, and all the other benefits rainforests provide to both indigenous people and the rest of the world – medicinal plants, clean, fresh water, a huge array of foodstuffs  – mean that, long-term, intact rainforest is worth millions more to us than the crops we might grow in its place.

Biodiversity is vital for our individual well being, the well-being of some of the poorest communities in the world, and for our own economy.  Biodiversity is our canary in the mine: its dwindling sends a sign of grave danger. That’s why addressing the loss of biodiversity is one of Defra’s highest priorities.

Domestically, we are planning measures to safeguard and expand our green spaces; to get more trees planted in this country, and to protect our wildlife, on our land and in our seas.

This July, we launched a discussion document on the future of Nature in England, and next year we’ll be publishing a Natural Environment White Paper, the first in 20 years. This will be a bold and ambitious statement, setting out a framework for practical action by Government, communities, businesses and civil society organisations. We’ve already launched a nationwide discussion and online forum, in order to gather ideas, knowledge and expertise for our White Paper.

We’re specifically addressing the threat of losing bees and other pollinators by providing £2.5 million over the next five years to an initiative to understand the threats to our pollinators.

And we are absolutely committed to addressing biodiversity loss on an international level. Britain, after all, contains just a tiny fraction of the world’s total biodiversity.

Our international efforts include work to halt deforestation.

We’ve already played a pivotal role in the agreement of EU legislation to tackle illegal logging.

And we will continue to play a leading role in international work to reduce deforestation, including through the REDD+ Partnership – a platform for developed and developing countries to make this happen together. We will be working with other countries to ensure that a future REDD+ mechanism protects natural forests and delivers biodiversity co-benefits alongside the carbon savings it is targeting.

This August, we started work to help the palm oil industry to become sustainable.  Working with businesses, we have begun mapping this country’s consumption of palm oil. We will be using our findings to produce a plan to help shift Britain’s sourcing of palm oil to a sustainable footing.

This is the year our current global target to significantly reduce the loss of our biodiversity expires.

It’s the year we finally know that – despite our efforts – this target will not be met.

Next month at the Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, Japan, 193 countries will meet to agree a new global framework for biodiversity.

This time, we must not only set a target, we must meet it.

So we will work with both the EU and other states to secure a deal in Nagoya this October that delivers clear commitments to action.

2010 was designated as the International Year of Biodiversity. Defra has part-funded a partnership for the year to promote the importance of biodiversity for our wellbeing and economy to the public, and to encourage people to get involved in helping make a difference. Over 400 organisations are taking part.

The environment and the economy cannot be separated. We can and must be the generation that reverses biodiversity decline and ends the degradation of the natural environment.