Loss of biodiversity is a global problem
August 07, 2013
By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Biodiversity loss is the most important threat faced by humanity today. This loss is occurring rapidly in many places around the globe at a time of major global climate changes and strong pressure to drastically increase food production to support the expanding global population.
This warning was delivered by Zakri Abdul Hamid, president of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), at the opening ceremonies of the Regional Meeting of IPBES for Latin America and the Caribbean, held on July 11. Officially created in April 2012, IPBES focuses on organizing knowledge about global biodiversity to inform policy decisions on the world stage.
The meeting was the first regional gathering conducted by IPBES. It was arranged by FAPESP under the auspices of the BIOTA Research Program for characterization, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in São Paulo, through the United Nations Program for the Environment (UNPE) and IPBES.
The event, held from July 11 to 13 at FAPESP’s headquarters, addressed ways of integrating Latin American and Caribbean research institutions and professionals who work in the area of biodiversity to produce regional diagnostics on a global level. The diagnostics will contain the specifics of the countries in the region, which account for a third of the planet’s biodiversity and encompass the traditional knowledge of indigenous and pre-Colombian people.
“As these are regions rich in biodiversity and cultural diversity, Latin America and the Caribbean could play an important role in defining the path to be followed by IPBES,” affirmed Hamid. “Furthermore, [the regions] also have respected institutions, such as the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Conabio), Mexico, the Humboldt Institute (Colombia) and FAPESP (Brazil), which can help to increase the capacity in these regions, by serving as role models for the rest of the world, and aid in the implementation of IPBES in the region,” he stressed.
According to Hamid, one of the main challenges that IPBES will have to face now, after eight years of international negotiations, is calling the world’s attention to the problem of the worldwide decline in the diversity of plant and animal species, which some scientists call the “sixth major extinction episode in the history of the Earth.”
According to data presented by Hamid, roughly 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops was lost in the last century. One of the factors responsible for this loss was farmers around the globe cultivating genetically uniform and high-yield varieties of crops, abandoning many local varieties.
“There are 30,000 species of plants, but only 30 crops supply 95% of the energy provided by food consumed by human beings; the great majority (60%) is [provided by] rice, wheat, corn, millet and sorghum,” he affirmed.
Among animals, according to data from the United National Organization on Food and Agriculture (FAO) presented by Hamid, approximately 22% of the world’s bovine breeds are at risk of extinction. Two reasons for this risk are that the characteristics of these species do not meet the current demands of livestock raisers and that their qualities have not been recognized.
Many of these native breeds, according to the FAO, are adapted to unfavorable environmental conditions, have genetic material that could be important for reproduction programs and are the means of subsistence for many of the world’s needy families because they are easier to handle than exotic breeds. Furthermore, in a world threatened by climate change, some of these breeds are more resistant to drought, extreme heat and tropical diseases.
“The loss of genetic diversity among domestic animals reflects the lack of general vision about the value of native breeds and their importance to adaptation to global climate change,” said Hamid. “This is a consequence of incentives that have promoted more uniform breeds and the focused selection of agriculture and livestock products.”
To minimize the risk of extinction of these species of animals and plants, the creation of germplasm banks (i.e., units for conserving genetic material for immediate or potential future use) has become increasingly important, notes Hamid, who is a science aide to the prime minister of Malaysia and who participated in the negotiations for the Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBB), established in 1992 during ECO-92.
According to Hamid, among the other major challenges in the political arena are informing and training decision makers to act to reverse the problem of declining biodiversity in the world today.
To this end, IPBES, inspired by the model adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), intends to generate information on biodiversity for the world’s public policy makers and to offer professional training programs on the subject for decision makers.
“Professional training in biodiversity was a requirement imposed by Latin American countries on IPBES so that there would be a differential with regard to the IPCC,” said Carlos Joly, a professor at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas’ Biology Institute (IB–Unicamp) and the coordinator of the BIOTA–FAPESP program.
“This topic is one of the most important things that we discussed in the regional meeting, to attempt to establish the manner in which IPBES’ work can help to train and carry out capacity-building for people and institutions in biodiversity and ecosystem services,” affirmed the Brazilian researcher, who was elected to be the director of IBPES’ Multidisciplinary Specialist Panel (MEP) this past June.
The assessment of FAPESP president Celso Lafer is that the interaction between the scientific community and environmental public policy makers that IPBES hopes to foster is what the Convention on Biological Biodiversity was lacking.
“Interaction between knowledge and policy makers was precisely what was needed for the Convention on Biological Biodiversity. And, for this reason, I am convinced [of the importance] of the creation of IPBES as part of the decision-making mechanisms for biodiversity” said Lafer, who served as the Foreign Relations Minister for the coordination of RIO-92, at which the Convention of Biological Biodiversity was signed.
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