From gut bacteria to the Blue Whale, biodiversity is our strongest ally for a sustainable future


Cartoon: Reddit Media

Two recent Facebook posts grabbed my attention, one of which is the cartoon with the rhino. Both posts reminded me of the stark fact that the terrestrial earth surface is dominated by us – humans. And our livestock.

We have this debate on how we can save tigers, snow leopards, lions and elephants.  And when these “inconvenient creatures” get in our way we call it “human wildlife conflict.”

This strikes me as rather selfish.  We are a biological species in a biological world.  Only one species out of the estimated 8-10 million species, not including microorganisms which are the foundation of the biosphere. It’s the little things that run the Earth system for us. Losing highly visible mammals would only mean we are losing an awful lot of the others.   

As a species we have achieved many things – good and bad. Music, art, poetry, wine, many methods of warfare, cars, the internet, and a variety of extraordinary civilizations.  But the reality is that all these achievements have happened within our home – a living planet.  And many achievements are results of our interactions as a species with the rest of the biological creatures that cohabit our planet.  Yet, we seem to have become rather arrogant and dominate the world - at least on the surface, and in our ability to throw natural orders off-kilter.

Biodiversity, the variety of life on earth from the microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts to the blue whale and their genetic diversity – is our strongest ally for our wellbeing and a sustainable future.  The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which the world unanimously adopted last year recognises this need for complexity.  UNDP as the development agency of the United Nations recognises this too. We have over 320 ecosystems and biodiversity management projects in over 130 countries with $1.5 billion financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other environmental funds, in addition to $3.5 billion co-financing contributions from governments and other partners.

Our recent investigations elucidate clear linkages between the biodiversity programme and each one of the 17 SDGs.
Let’s think about it. The majority of modern medicines originate from nature, including treatments for leukaemia, malaria, our life saving antibiotics, and pain-killing aspirin and morphine.

Nearly a third of the world’s largest cities depend upon protected forests for their drinking water. New York, to take one prominent city as an example, is no exception. Singapore would be waterless without the Malaysian forests. We all rely upon the Plant Kingdom for our fresh air. We would be in trouble without that.

It’s not all about dollars and cents, but it is also about dollars and cents. A living elephant in Africa is worth $1.6 million in ecotourism opportunities annually providing sizable contributions to GDPs and rural livelihood. The world’s food supply is underpinned by biodiversity, with wild food such as fish supplying a significant portion of the world’s animal protein and with over 75% of food crops (fruits and vegetables) depending on wild pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The pollinator’s annual economic value is estimated at $ 235-577 billion per year.  

The living environment of our planet helps us adapt to the climate change impact using natural solutions to protect our coastlines, aquifers and resilience of our agricultural production.  This is just a snapshot of how biodiversity supports the world’s efforts to achieve a sustainable future.

Yet, we are squandering our assets.  Only around two million species have been scientifically described.  The vast majority of them – we don’t even know.  

From this largely unexplored treasure chest, we are losing precious species at a dangerously alarming rate – 2,000 per year or more.  This makes us hugely vulnerable to the global and local challenges we face that the Agenda 2030 is trying to deal with.

SDGs, with their focus on people and the planet, promise a new era for biodiversity conservation. They provide opportunities for accelerating biodiversity conservation actions towards the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and beyond, with better articulated and globally recognised linkages between biodiversity and sustainable development.

I maintain faith in humanity.  We CAN stop dominating and become guardians.  We CAN give the others their space and elbow room to thrive. Because this is the way to keep our own home intact.  Because nature is a compulsory insurance for our future.  It will be us who will be punished if we don’t insure ourselves.  

Forests Ecosystems and biodiversity gef Blog post Sustainable development

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