We Need to Invest in Nature

11 December 2014 - // Opinions
Jane Smart
Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group and Director, IUCN Global Species Programme

Biodiversity is the planet’s life support system and key to addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges such as climate change, sustainable development and food security, and conserving biodiversity has been central to the mission of IUCN since its creation in 1948.

For more than 50 years, IUCN has compiled the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species and their links to livelihoods: the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List is much more than a list of species and their status – it is a powerful tool to inform and guide conservation action for biodiversity conservation and the policy change that is fundamental for protecting the natural resources we need to survive.

The European Red List of Threatened Species was established in 2006 thanks to funding from the European Commission. It is a review of the conservation status of around 10,000 European species, identifying those species that are threatened with extinction at the European level. It has developed into a powerful tool to inform policy decisions on biodiversity conservation and the protection of Europe’s natural resources. It is also an instrument for policy-makers to measure progress towards achieving the targets set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which aims at halting the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020.

The European Union has some of the world’s highest environmental standards, and its environmental policies help to protect Europe’s natural capital, green the economy, and protect the well-being of its citizens. The EU Birds and Habitats Directives are the cornerstones of the nature legislation, ensuring both the physical protection of individual specimens across the 28 EU countries and the conservation of core breeding and resting sites for certain particularly rare and threatened species under the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Although these Directives have clearly delivered certain conservation successes in Europe, for instance they have helped bird and some large carnivore species to recover in Europe, they have not been fully implemented in all Member States, and to date we are still far from reaching the EU targets. Instead, biodiversity loss continues at an unprecedented rate.

The IUCN Red List is an invaluable health check for our planet

a Barometer of Life

Currently, we are witnessing the greatest extinction crisis since dinosaurs disappeared from our planet 65 million years ago. Habitat destruction, land conversion for agriculture and development, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species are only some of the threats responsible for today’s crisis.

Not only are these extinctions irreversible, the ramifications of such extinctions are a serious threat to our health and wellbeing. The benefits that we gain from biodiversity go far beyond the mere provision of raw materials. Our food and energy security strongly depend on biodiversity and so does our vulnerability to natural hazards such as fires and flooding.

For example, pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35% of the world’s crop production, and 87 of the most important food crops worldwide, as well as many medicines derived by plants. Plankton in oceans, seas and freshwater ecosystems produces as much as half of the world’s oxygen. And the list goes on and on.

Biodiversity conservation is not just about well-known iconic species such as pandas or tigers. Fish, for instance, may provoke little emotional reaction, but provide large parts of the global population with their daily protein. Bees and other insects are needed for pollination. Many other species (including plants and insects) living in and on the world’s soils provide essential biological functions for soil management and decomposition. A thorough assessment of the status of these species is thus equally important to guide conservation action and to achieve the global and European biodiversity targets.

The European Red List includes many of these small and lesser known species. Its findings clearly show that concerted effort is required to protected Europe’s fragile biodiversity and ecosystems. Decision-makers and leaders must understand that this is not an isolated issue, but that every decision we take that affects biodiversity, also affects human lives – in Europe and around the globe.

For millennia, nature has fed us, cured us, and protected us. But today the roles have switched. We need to feed nature, we need to cure it and protect it if we want to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our children.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not (necessarily) reflect REVOLVE's editorial stance.
Jane Smart
Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group and Director, IUCN Global Species Programme

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