The principal solutions to biodiversity loss are the reduction of land and soil degradation, especially related to agriculture, and the integration of biodiversity strategies with other major environmental concerns such as climate change, and also with human development concerns such as poverty reduction.
In addition, conservation through regulated protected areas and national parks will remain an important solution to biodiversity loss. However, its limitations in tackling the full extent of the biodiversity crisis have increased resolve to find solutions which coexist with human agency rather than exclude it. Described as the sustainable use of biodiversity, this is one of the three core objectives of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
This objective must place its greatest emphasis on agriculture, by far the most significant cause of biodiversity loss. However, governments in the poorest countries face dilemmas in pursuing their goal of reducing poverty amongst the world’s 475 million smallholdings of less than two hectares, without neglecting biodiversity.
Modern high-technology farming yields plentiful and cheap food but is associated with mono-culture land environments where soil is eroding and biodiversity has been cast aside. Furthermore, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity once found in agricultural crops has been lost over the last century. Just three staple crops – wheat, maize and rice – now provide more than half of plant-based calories in the human diet. Thousands of traditional crops have not only been discarded for food production but have themselves become threatened species.
Importing this model, involving consolidation and modernisation of small farms, brokered by agribusiness corporations, may not therefore be the obvious strategic choice it seems. An alternative approach seeks higher yields that can be achieved through intense husbandry on small farms. Described as “agro-ecology” or “eco-farming”, this low input model requires skills in soil regeneration, nitrogen fixation, natural pest control and agro-forestry, each of which depends on greater variety of crops and peripheral plants.
Reconciliation of these polarised approaches to agriculture is critical to both food security and biodiversity. The debate illustrates how the goal of sustainable use of biodiversity falls firmly within the global challenge of sustainable development. Strategic solutions to food security, poverty reduction and health can benefit from, and contribute to, flourishing natural ecosystems supported by stable biodiversity. Relatively straightforward policies such as wetlands management and greening cities can also advance multiple goals.
International policymakers and negotiators on environmental issues face their own challenges in integrating biodiversity across their agendas. Detailed implementation of multilateral agreements increasingly overlaps. This difficulty is most apparent in the three separate 1992 UN Conventions addressing the interconnected problems of biodiversity, climate change and desertification.
Choices made by individual consumers in richer countries also have a vital role to play. For example, certification of seafood products, such as that offered by the Marine Stewardship Council, provides the purchaser with reassurance of sustainable fishing methods.
Some of the world’s major corporations are beginning to acknowledge not just the reputational risk of environmentally damaging products but also the more fundamental business risk of ecosystem failure. Commodities such as coffee and cocoa are integral to the global economy, yet dependent on delicate ecosystems.
A vision of a world economy in which ecosystems and biodiversity are recognised as the highest and non-negotiable tier of economic capital, framing policymaking and business strategies, therefore remains elusive. However, an innovative path to achieve supremacy of ecosystems has been pioneered in New Zealand and India in 2017. Successful petitions have been brought to grant legal rights to rivers of especial cultural significance, as though the ecosystem has human agency. The implications are uncertain but any development affecting these rivers is likely to encounter legal hurdles.
more Biodiversity briefings (updated May 2018)
Importance of Biodiversity
Biodiversity Loss and Planetary Boundaries
Causes of Biodiversity Loss
Climate Change and Biodiversity
Conservation of Biodiversity
Sustainable Development Goals for Biodiversity
Biodiversity Finance and Economics
Biodiversity Access and Benefit-Sharing
Source Material and Useful Links