Biodiversity refers to the enormous variety of living organisms present on our planet. The network is vast and encompasses an indeterminate number of species, with estimates ranging from approximately five million to one trillion. However, the notion extends much beyond these figures. A plethora of ecosystems bestows upon us the vital resources of clean water, air, fertile soil, climate regulation, medicinal compounds, sustenance, recreational opportunities, and creative stimulation. Nevertheless, this vital safety measure that sustains life is in jeopardy. Countless species face the threat of extinction, since we are currently experiencing the "sixth mass extinction." The extensive removal of specific elements of biodiversity has resulted in detrimental consequences for all other aspects. The cessation of biodiversity decline is imperative, and the reinstatement of biological complexity is essential.
Nature and Human Identity
Biodiversity is the variety of life on our planet, including the myriad of species and ecosystems, as well as the genetic differences within species. This diversity of life forms includes human beings, who are integrally connected to and dependent upon the natural world for survival. Across the globe, about half of humanity resides in urban settings, with projections indicating an increase to 70% by mid-century. This urbanization trend has led to a physical and psychological separation from nature, impacting our perception of and engagement with the natural environment. Indigenous communities, conversely, often perceive no separation between themselves and the natural world, a perspective that has contributed significantly to their role as protectors of biodiversity; they safeguard an estimated 80% of the world's biodiversity despite constituting a mere 5% of the population.
Biodiversity is foundational to many aspects of human society, influencing culture, art, identity, religion, education, and psychological well-being. However, many Western philosophies tend to place humans above or apart from nature. In re-establishing a sense of unity with the natural world, we can begin to see ourselves as part of a complex network of life. This shift in perspective is essential, not only for the conservation of biodiversity but also for recognizing and fulfilling our obligations to maintain it. We must incorporate indigenous understanding with scientific insight to truly appreciate nature's role in our lives. Nature should be viewed not just as a resource to be exploited but as the fabric of our existence, which we have a duty to protect and preserve for future generations.
Societies as Stewards of Biodiversity
Humanity's impact on biodiversity has been profound, leading to its decline. Yet, we possess the capabilities to not only halt this trend but also to actively enhance and nurture nature. Through the application of ecological, local, and indigenous knowledge, communities can maintain the balance of ecosystems and foster biodiversity. Ecological restoration initiatives across the globe aim to rehabilitate habitats, reforest areas, cultivate corals, reintroduce wildlife, and enable natural spaces to recover from anthropogenic disturbances. The creation and expansion of protected areas are imperative to bolster ecosystem functioning and biodiversity. This involves the employment of improved management practices, rewilding efforts, and establishing corridors that connect protected regions. Restoration, while increasingly recognized as crucial, still requires amplification to meet the United Nations' restoration targets.
Political determination, economic innovation, and leveraging local scientific expertise are fundamental to achieving significant advancements in global biodiversity. Restoration and conservation strategies include a spectrum of methods, from preserving undeveloped land to facilitating sustainable land use through agroforestry and permaculture, aiming to create self-sustaining ecosystems. However, these strategies must be tailored to the unique social and ecological contexts of each local community. Long-term biodiversity preservation will be successful only when local populations are empowered to protect their ecosystems. The Great Green Wall initiative in Africa exemplifies success in enabling local communities to adopt sustainable practices while reintegrating species into their habitats. The momentum of the restoration movement will become unstoppable once local communities are actively involved and benefit from the tangible results of ecological restoration.
Aligning Economies with Nature
The pursuit of economic growth, predominantly measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), has been at the expense of the environment. The World Bank has estimated that nearly half of the global GDP is somewhat dependent on nature, with some arguing the dependency is total. The global economy has seen immense growth, propelled by a relentless drive for expansion, resulting in a 56-fold increase in economic output since the start of the industrial revolution. This growth has been accompanied by an intensification of human impacts on nature. Land use has doubled, wildlife populations have plummeted by 69% since 1970, and species extinction rates have accelerated. Concurrently, economic growth has not universally translated into meeting people's basic needs, perpetuating the legacy of imperialism that typically benefits the wealthier nations to the detriment of the Global South.
Economies should be structured to benefit both humans and the environment. It is possible for the Gross Domestic Product to decrease while overall well-being improves. Instead of single-mindedly chasing GDP growth, the global economy could aim for a steady state that satisfies human needs with minimal environmental damage. There are various tools available to build economies that transcend the growth paradigm. Economists advocating for moving beyond GDP-centric models have focused on alternative indicators like the Genuine Progress Indicator, Gross National Happiness, Happy Planet Index, and Inclusive Wealth. Companies, too, can shift from solely maximizing shareholder returns to delivering value to customers, creating better working conditions, producing durable goods, fostering community development, and lowering carbon footprints.
To support local populations and establish nature as the foundation of subsistence, transitions may be needed towards regenerative agriculture, more localized trade of non-timber forest products, and innovative conservation and ecotourism initiatives. Local economies tailored to local ecologies can reduce reliance on international trade, which often carries significant environmental costs, disproportionately affecting the Global South. Ultimately, the global economy must transition away from metrics tied to economic growth and adopt models that sustain humanity within the limits of our planet.
Research, Metrics and Monitoring
There has been significant advancement in the field of monitoring and quantifying biodiversity. The complex web of interrelated species that makes up the Earth's biodiversity supports all life forms, including humans, and deserves to be valued and measured accurately. Ecologists are continually working to improve our understanding of the principles of biodiversity, which is crucial for effective, equitable, and sustainable management. An ever-growing body of ecological knowledge can provide governments, businesses, and individuals with the information needed to make nature-positive decisions. The objectives set by governments and standards by corporations must align with current scientific knowledge to respect planetary boundaries and avoid critical thresholds.
Comprehending the current state of biodiversity and quantifying its extent is of utmost importance, enabling strategic resource allocation to areas in dire need. Research has highlighted the importance of preserving belowground biodiversity and studying natural processes, allowing us to develop technologies and structures that work with, rather than against, biodiversity. However, monitoring biodiversity on large scales is a challenge that requires advanced methods like eco-acoustic and environmental DNA techniques. Remote sensing is helping scientists gain a better understanding of global biodiversity patterns, especially in previously inaccessible areas.
Stronger Governance for Biodiversity
Natural systems' interconnectedness crosses geopolitical boundaries, necessitating more robust international cooperation. Policy can be a powerful tool for either preserving or harming biodiversity. Presently, global subsidies that potentially encourage environmentally destructive behaviors amount to around $1.8 trillion yearly, dwarfing the $74.4 billion spent by governments on biodiversity conservation. Although frameworks like the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework offer guidance, they lack enforceable obligations, often resulting in a lack of accountability for environmental damage. International collaboration and governance are essential to prevent the shifting of ecologically harmful activities to regions with weaker protections. Stronger national and international laws are needed to safeguard biodiversity.
Governments should utilize the best available science for policymaking and employ advanced technology for progress monitoring and transparency. Subsidy reform and incentives for pro-nature behaviors, along with wealth redistribution measures, can empower indigenous and local communities in conservation efforts. Expanding legally protected lands and ensuring land tenure and human rights are also crucial. Democratic reforms can encourage the younger generation and lower-income groups to participate in creating locality-specific legislation. Biodiversity preservation requires robust international cooperation, combined with enforceable domestic policies that hold all parties accountable.
Biodiversity to Aid Human Well-Being
Biodiversity is an invaluable asset that can significantly aid in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Since our species' inception, we have relied on nature for advancement. Yet, human development is uneven, with 1% controlling much wealth while others lack basic needs. Just 23% of land remains pristine, and human activities are overtaxing Earth's capacity to support life. Biodiversity's decline is linked to growing inequality, conflict, and loss of ecosystem services. Reversing this can protect people and livelihoods. Healthy ecosystems can form the basis of local economies, alleviate poverty, empower women and non-binary individuals, and reward communities for environmental stewardship.
Robust ecosystems also help meet basic needs like food, water, energy, and medicine. Protecting and restoring the environment is key to meeting climate goals and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increased biodiversity can reduce the risk of violence and political instability, contributing to peace and sustainable development. Prioritizing and protecting biodiversity can lead to benefits for billions worldwide in terms of well-being, happiness, and sustenance.