Journalism and the environment

04. What is the link between loss of biodiversity and the survival of humans? /

The climate should not distract us from the bigger picture: the other harmful effects of human activity on the environment. Environmental journalists must also look at other indicators. The loss of biodiversity is a global threat but the situation is not identical in every country.

One million animal and plant species face extinction within decades unless action is taken to halt biodiversity loss. This figure is the first indicator in a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. This global scientific body is informally known as the ‘IPCC of biodiversity’.

But what is biodiversity? It is the diversity of living things and ecosystems. Flora, fauna, bacteria but also genes. It encompasses the interactions between all these organisms. Including those between these organisms and their environment.

And an endangered species is an animal or plant that faces a high risk of extinction in the near future. And as well as threatening the survival of living species, biodiversity decline threatens our survival too.

The rate of decline varies from region to region. But the explosion in global trade and consumption as well as an increase in human population and mass urbanisation have transformed our world over the past fifty years.

Look around you. Haven’t you noticed that our trees, our streams and our seas are less populated? The 2020 global Living Planet Index shows an average 68% decline in monitored population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016. Land degradation and land take, deforestation, pollution, mining, overfishing and overhunting… all of these pose a major threat to biodiversity, which is vital for global food security.

How would we manage, for instance, without wild plants? After all, we use over 1,160 species for food.

According to a new IUCN report, by increasing the biodiversity of soils through sustainable practices, farmers could deliver substantial benefits for food and water security. Sustainable agriculture would also deliver benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change. And yet it is the continent that contributes the least to it. The Dutch Development Bank has actually just invested 10 million dollars in the eco. business Fund to boost biodiversity conservation in sub-Saharan Africa. The greatest threat to biodiversity here is habitat destruction.

In Casamance, for example.

This region of Senegal was once known for its rich vegetation, biodiversity and expansive forests. It was the bread basket of this Western African nation. But its woodlands are now disappearing, forming a silent crisis in a region where climate change poses a serious threat. Over 10,000 hectares have been lost to illegal logging, representing an estimated one million trees for the illegal trade in timber, especially rosewood, to meet the demand in China. But also in local markets, in Gambia as well as Senegal. Government corruption in these two countries facilitates this illegal deforestation. 

A situation seen in Indonesia too, which is deforesting at an alarming rate to produce tons of palm oil, which has disastrous impacts on biodiversity. Orangutans, gibbons and tigers are among the species most affected by palm oil impacts on biodiversity. These impacts converge on Malaysia and Indonesia but could spill over to tropical Africa and America as production expands to meet demand. Especially in Asia where palm oil is a staple on everyone’s plate.

As you can see, biodiversity loss directly threatens our survival. When we have to rely on robotic pollinators, as they do in Japan, to carry out artificial pollination because there are no bees, it will be too late.

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