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‘Wise use of nature may lead to economic progress’

P Anima | Updated on September 13, 2019 Published on September 13, 2019

Last chance: Sixty-six per cent of the oceans are under severe threat, according to the global assessment report   -  ISTOCK.COM

Think globally, act locally, reiterates Josef Settele, co-author of a United Nations report that shook the world. More species are being threatened with extinction than ever before, warned the global assessment report published this year

A scientific report released by the United Nations (UN) earlier this year voiced a dire warning to people across the world: Humans, it said, were forcing lifelines on Earth to snap shut. More species were being threatened with extinction than ever before, noted the first global assessment report in 14 years published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in May. A catalogue of loss, it documented the rapid decline in biodiversity and ecosystems — 75 per cent of land is now altered, 66 per cent of the oceans are under severe threat, and 85 per cent of wetlands lost. One million species are facing extinction and the extent of loss is already ten to hundred times higher than it averaged over the past 10 million years. Local varieties of plants and animal breeds are disappearing. The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history.

There is work to be done, and it’s time to remind politicians to act on their promises to effect change, Josef Settele, co-author of the report, stresses. Awareness among people is crucial to bring about transformative change, adds the German scientist who was in India to attend the just-concluded United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), held on the outskirts of Delhi. Edited excerpts from an interview with BLink:

Josef Settele, co-author of the IPBES’s Global Assessment Report   -  SEBASTIAN WIEDLING/UFZ

 

You mentioned at the convention the concern with which the UN report was received across the world. It was the lead news story in international newspapers, and French President Emmanuel Macron had a discussion with the IPBES team a day after the report was published. Four months on, do you see a sustained effort across platforms in tackling the degradation and damage highlighted in the report? Where is it most apparent?

I see a sustained effort in many sectors and many countries — but, of course, not yet tackling the degradation, but preparing for some concrete action. Whether it materialises remains to be seen, but it should be our common goal to promote the news and remind politicians of what has been agreed upon, for which bottom-up movements also play a key role. The G7, European Union, France, Germany, the US, Norway, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, UNCCD, and Scotland are among those that have shown commitment to crafting policies in addressing the problem.

The findings of the report are staggering. But how difficult is it to rally support for transformative action, especially in developing countries where the idea of economic progress is often in direct conflict with the environment?

It is a matter of making the right linkages. As a baseline, everybody needs food and good nutrition, so there is, in principle, quite some openness for valuing nature. Activities such as agroecology are gaining momentum as they show that in many systems, production can be done with much less inputs in terms of expensive fertilisers or pesticides. We do not deny that there is a necessity for economic progress, but we think it can be achieved through transformative change. For example, in the field of governance, nobody would deny that an integrated approach would be much better than a segregated one. Wise use of nature also may lead to economic progress, such as the protection of mangroves, which reduces the risks and impacts of floods during storms or of (in the worst case) tsunamis, or the development of nature-friendly tourism.

The report calls for transformative action across all spheres — economic, social, political and technological. Which of these factors is the biggest impediment to transformative action?

I think it is the social factors, as these directly impact economic and political decisions. That’s why we think that the attitude and awareness of people are a core component for the successful development of transformative change.

How crucial is the role of local communities and local ecosystems?

The local level is the core level — as one says: Think globally, act locally. But on the global level also, decisions have to be made as they come. For example, (decisions relating) to trade.

The study says the rate of global change in the past 50 years is unprecedented. Has the extent of decline in biodiversity and damage to ecosystem been more pronounced in the last 14 years, since the first assessment report was published in 2005?

This is hard to say. Although 14 years is not really a long period, the signs have become more alarming, and the obvious effects, for example, of climate change on ecosystems (including agro-ecosystems), have surely increased.

The report has shocked readers over the extent of loss — of species, ecosystems and biodiversity — it documents. Did it come as a surprise to the IPBES team, too, as its work of over three years, drawing from 15,000-odd references, finally began to take shape?

As many of the authors have been familiar with the literature, this did not come as a shock. But, just the same, the extent of destruction and loss was not expected to be so severe.

Published on September 13, 2019
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