Biodiversity is at stake

In recent months, you must have heard much more about biodiversity threats and ecological catastrophes than before, one of the reasons is undeniably because of the real threats, but why 2019, but not earlier or later?

The reason is that we are going to have TWO very important international meetings in Oct 2020 Beijing to discuss about biodiversity and biosafety, they are:

  1. Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15)
  2. Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COPMOP-10)

Thus, it is high time for us to stocktake the achievements of our previous agreed 10-year targets, that is: Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets. (CBD, 2018)

It tells why suddenly we got so many international scientists’ reports on biodiversity. But almost all of the reports are of very negative conclusions. They basically confirmed that biodiversity is deteriorating fast and disastrously, and is caused by human activities. For example, IPBES (2019) estimates that there are 82% decline in global biomass of wild mammals, 47% decline of natural ecosystems, 25% plant and animal species threatened with extinction, and 23% decline in abundance of naturally present land species. (Figure 1)

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Figure 1 An update of the current situations of biodiversity. Guardian (2019a) cited from IPBES (2019)

Among the threatened species, cycads are facing the most severe threats, with almost 20% is Critically Endangered, another 20% is Endangered and another 20+% is Vulnerable, as shown in Figure 2. The species group that is facing the second most severe threats is amphibian, with more than 30% is classified as Threatened.

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Figure 2 Global Extinction Risk in different Species Group. Source: IPBES (2019)

The report also found that the rate of extinction and the rate of decline of species survival are abrupt and fast, especially amphibians and corals, as shown in Figure 3.

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Figure 3 The Rate of Extinction and the Rate of Declines of Species Survival. Source: IPBES (2019)

In fact, the extinction risk of amphibians can easily be appreciated in Hong Kong. A few years ago, when the government announced that a housing development project would be carried out at a Pokfulam site (Chi Fu Valley), we have raised our objection because we found several threatened species in the site, including an endangered and a vulnerable amphibian, viz. (1) short-legged toad, and (2)lesser spiny frog. (SCMP, 2018) Finally, the site was saved after the government’s consultant also confirmed our findings. We have saved TWO threatened amphibians in Hong Kong, but could not stop the development in another 4 sites in the vicinity of the Chi Fu Valley!

The number of threatened species is stunning! By 25% of species that are threatened, it is equivalent to about 1 million species! (Figure 4) The reasons why so many species are threatened can be summarized by the following 5 major causes of species loss, viz. (1) Changes in land and sea use, (2) Direct exploitation of organisms, (3) Climate change, (4) Pollution, (5) Invasive alien species. (Figure 4)

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Figure 3 Estimation of the number of species being threatened. Source: IPBES (2019)
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Figure 5 The 5 Main Causes of Species Loss. Source: CNN cited IPBES (2019)

Change of land and ocean use imposes the greatest threats, thus a Global Deal for Nature is proposed for immediate actions to save the world. It was published by 19 of the world’s leading scientists for an interim step that would protect 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030, which is protected from resource extraction and land conversion. Only sustainable uses would be permitted in all but the most sensitive areas.

However, world leaders care more about economic benefits. Infrastructure developments and real estate developments are very often the top priorities of governments. Take Hong Kong as an example, 3 large-scale reclamation projects are underway which will reclaim more than 2000 ha of land. There are also at least two New Development Areas in the rural areas that are to be developed soon. Since the government of Hong Kong and economic growth rely very much on land sale, the government is planning to solicit not less than 2000 ha of new land by land conversion or reclamation not later than 2043.

Thus, besides taking environmental actions, economic policy changes would be equally important. Released almost at the same time as the IPBES (2019) report, “a new OECD (2019) report makes a bold call for taxes on wildlife-degrading companies, and the diversion of finance to biodiversity-boosting projects rather than damaging ones; fossil fuel companies and agribusiness continue to receive vast subsidies.” (Guardian, 2019b)

References

CBD (2018) Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets, https://www.cbd.int/sp/

Guardian (2019a) Human society under urgent threat from loss of Earth’s natural life: Scientists reveal 1 million species at risk of extinction in damning UN report, The Guardian, May 6. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report

Guardian (2019b) The Guardian view on extinction: time to rebel, Editorial May 7. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/07/the-guardian-view-on-extinction-time-to-rebel?fbclid=IwAR3URr5aYioJDVRl4k84wCkVSuVo_dizaguELuuFoplK7MFB0E3YzmO_XBw

IPBES (2019) Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’
Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’, Global Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), May 6. https://www.ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment

OECD (2019) Biodiversity: Finance and the Economic and Business Case for Action,May 5–6. http://www.oecd.org/environment/resources/biodiversity/biodiversity-finance-and-the-economic-and-business-case-for-action.htm

SCMP (2018) Spiny frogs, ancient trees and a dairy farm: can an 'eco-heritage park, April 8.

ecyY is the Founder of Real Estate Development and Building Research & Information Centre REDBRIC

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