Biodiversity – and the false paradise of the developed world

As the November 2010 issue of Municipal World went to press, thousands of decision makers were gathering in Nagoya, Japan for the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – with a goal of formulating a strategy to reduce current pressures on the planet’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity has numerous definitions, many of them complex and scientific. The definition from the Canadian Biodiversity Information Network, however, sums it up nicely: “Biodiversity encompasses all living species on Earth and their relationships to each other …” Quite simply, biodiversity refers to the diversity of all living things on the planet.

Biodiversity is important to communities for so many reasons. Economically, of course, the contributions to the fishing, forestry, agriculture, and recreation industries are significant. It’s also important to human health – and the pharmaceutical industry. The Canadian Biodiversity website reports that, of the top 150 prescription drugs, 118 originally came from living creatures, mostly plants. In fact, 70 percent of pharmaceuticals now being used come from or are derived from natural products. Research with rainforest plant life has led to medical cures for everything from headaches to heart conditions.

Unfortunately, biodiversity is being destroyed by human activity faster than nature can re-create it. Wildlife habitat destruction continues to place our sensitive ecosystems under stress – the very systems that we rely on for things like clean air, water purification, our food production and our climate. (See Jane Lewington’s article on page 5 of the November issue of Municipal World, discussing the role of biodiversity in helping us adapt to climate change.)

The loss of these “environmental services” – and the significant cost to artificially provide them once nature no longer can – are reasons for concern. That’s why the Government of Canada, with support from provincial and territorial governments, became a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992; and, in 1995, the government developed a Canadian Biodiversity Strategy. That strategy presents the following vision for Canada: “A society that lives and develops as a part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in its biodiversity.”

It’s a nice thought, but … the 2010 edition of WWF’s Living Planet Report, released just days before the meeting in Nagoya, warns that humanity’s demand on natural resources are now sky-rocketing to 50 percent more than the earth can sustain. And, Canada ranks among the top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person. Says Jim Leape, director general of WWF International, “There is an alarming rate of biodiversity loss in low-income, often tropical countries while the developed world is living in a false paradise, fueled by excessive consumption and high carbon emissions.”

In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, it’s unlikely that our efforts since 1992 – and the results measured against our own strategy and vision – will be judged very favourably.


One comment

  1. Wordywoman · October 18, 2010

    I can’t believe what is going on globally with restrictions placed on farmers by local governments. It’s sad and maddening especially in India where the government will not allow farmers to save seed. The controlling agencies are wreaking havoc on biodiversity.


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