The decline in the world's biodiversity is approaching a point of no return, warns Hilary Benn. In this week's Green Room, the
Although it is hard to measure how much biodiversity we have, we do know these targets have not been met. Our ecological footprint - what we take out of the planet - is now 1.3 times the biological capacity of the Earth. In the words of Professor Bob Watson, Defra's chief scientific adviser and former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are in danger of approaching "a point of no return". So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago will continue.
To do this, we need to widen the nature of the debate about biodiversity. Flora and fauna matter for their own sake; they lift our spirits and nurture our souls. But our ecosystems also sustain us and our economies - purifying our drinking water, producing our food and regulating our climate. Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked. We ignore natural capital at our peril.
It is easy to have principles when you can afford then - economics and ecology are interdependent. So when it comes to biodiversity, we desperately need to start restoring links between science and policy, between taking action and evaluating it and between economies and ecosystems. The big challenge will be for the real benefits of biodiversity and the hard costs of its loss to be included in our economic systems and markets. Perverse subsidies and the lack of value attached to the services provided by ecosystems have been factors contributing to their loss. What we cannot cost, we don't value - until it has gone.
Investing in the future
Much greater concerted effort is needed to stop the plunder of our ecosystems. Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the mid-1970s. The burning of
I am optimistic. Talking about the danger of climate change has brought with it opportunities to tackle the biodiversity crisis.
While the 2010 targets have not been met, more than 160 countries now have national biodiversity action plans. Mechanisms now exist for research, monitoring and scientific assessment of biodiversity, although we now need an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to oversee progress in the same way the IPCC does for climate change. One example of progress is the Brazilian Government's new target, which requires illegal deforestation to be cut by 80% by 2020. Last year, deforestation rates in
Our ninth National Park, in the
Hilary Benn is the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Hilary Benn? Is global biodiversity approaching a point of no return? How hopeful are you that we will be able to halt the rate of species loss? Are you optimistic about the future state of the Earth?
Biodiversity nears point of no return supported.To cheak the menance ,all contries are to show concern.The restoration of ecosytems has to be optimistic.Flora and Fauna be alloud to intermingle,man as the agent of distruction must not be controle. Indiscriminet cutting of tree and setting of fire must be stop.Environmental polution be controle to minimum.By so doing the piont of no return will abit be projected further.
Dahiru Lawal Babura(MNES), Babura,
Instead of senseless effort to spend taxpayers money to save those cloase to extinction, you better invest in genetic engineering to release better fit species into changed environment. And those can be crops and meat. Imagine giant protein plant based on plankton or krill. They will better serve to "save whales" aims. All this "save biodiversity" call is just a call for money. You cannot overcome basic rules of nature, only the fittiest survive. You are not going to restore some Jurassic biodiversity arent you?
....last few words from my letter to the editor in 2001: For thousands of years humans have found a deep inspiration in nature to create works of art or to discover the secrets of the universe. Perhaps it is not too late to acknowledge the ultimate logical revelation that life on Earth without the rest of creation will be empty and forever sorrowful.
When I think of the authoritarian practices which are rapaciously destroying wildlife habitat on the edge of
Really another vaugue dire prediction from some eco activist parading as a scientist. What evidence is there to support his "point of no return" claim? Absolutely none you say, I thought so. Keep spinning the eco yarns no one cares or listens anymore.
There are so many different resources under threat, I agree with so many posts here, we have to cut population alongside other initiatives. It seems blindingly obvious that attempting to conserve resources without population control is like trying to fill a bucket with a large hole. It annoys me when I see people having three and four children, there's no other word for it than selfish. But they just don't get it clearly, and until population stops being "someone's elses problem", we're going to get nowhere. What effect would it have, I wonder over the next 30-40 years, if all new prospective parents were limited to birthing only one child? I'm not in any postion to suggest how we would do this, but I think time is fast approaching when we will be forced to take such drastic measures
I agree with Steve Johnson. The human population issue must be addressed by all countries, seriously and soon before solutions to biodiversity and other ecology problems become nonviable. The support systems of this world will collapse, taking humans along.
I suspect that in 100 million years time (assuming there are palaeontologists around to examine it) the fossil record corresponding to the 20/21 century will show the sudden deforestation of the entire planet and, in the blink of a geological eye, the extinction of all animals with a body weight greater than 10Kg, (with the exception of around half a dozen species whose population exploded!) This represents a breadth, depth and rate of mass extinction that dwarves even the Permian-Triassic extinction (AKA the "the Great Dying") If all this seems a bit pessimistic, it is worth noting that this has pretty well already happened over much of the developed world. Unless something pretty dramatic happens over the next couple of decades the process will be largely complete, globally, within the lifetime of people alive today! "Climate Change" is an insignificant issue by comparison!
This thing is beyond all of us. Whatever governments do it will be, as always, too little or too much and too late. It will be solved by natural means. If it means less human beings then that is what will happen. This is the way of the world, it always was and it always will be. Try not to make things worse but don't get your nickers in a twist about it. Live as you are able and enjoy every minute. The future will take care of itself.
Instead of naming 2010 “the International Year of Biodiversity”, the UN should have named it “the International Year for Sustainable Development”. If they had, then maybe the meeting in
As for Benn's mention of "perverse subsidies", in addition to cross-subsidising biofuels from crops, his Government gives over £700 million of annual public subsidy to factory farming, with its heavy ecological fooprint.
"Can anyone name a species that has gone extinct in the last 50 years?" Neil McEvoy,
Giles Bradshaw, Rose Ash,
Britain could set a good lead going into this conference by at least recognising that the concept of 'Prosperity Without Growth' as espoused by Prof Tim Jackson is worthy of consideration. Sadly it seems to have been side-lined. Imagine that we aspire to well-being, social integration and happiness instead of more possessions, bigger houses, more exotic holidays etc. Biodiversity threats and climate change are both symptoms of human greed. Break out of the consumerist paradigm and we might stand a chance. Biofuels must be consigned to history. Using land, water and agricultural resources to grow petrol and electricity is insanity at a time when 1 billion people go hungry.
At the heart of the matter is money and more importantly greed. Increasing populations to increase growth cause the loss of habitat and biodiversity. Surely we can not continue with a world run as a common market. Each country/continent should have a population limit it can sustain itself. As individuals we can make a difference by voting, the shame is there is no one there to vote for. Maybe a Green/UKIP coalition party!!!
Nick Brown, leamington Spa
"economics and ecology are interdependent" Damned right they are Mr Benn !; the more people, the more money, the more people, the more money . . . . And though all of that spiraling upwards out of control, the more planet that gets ripped up to pay for all of it. Like Climate Change, Biodiversity is another symptom; a surface sign of the fundamental, underlying, illness; too much Human Activity on planet Earth. Human Activity = (Number of individuals) x (Individual Impact) The UN says we all have the right to live to the same levels of Individual Impact; mobile phone, wide screen TV and walk-in fridge. So the only part of the equation we have left to control is the (Number of individuals). And no; his piece here does not elevate Mr Benn to the dizzy political heights of World President (or whatever) as one person comments. Oh, it's an excellent piece of work, I agree with every word; well done; welcome to the top of the hill . . . But as a measure of the calibre of a politician; no; it rather more begs when the rest of them are going wake up and smell the forrest fires. We are ripping up the planet faster than it can cope; it's gone past "curbing". It's reached the time to stop; plain, outright; stop ! We have to get the Human population down, stop having kids; save the knowledge we have, and live within the means of the planet. Otherwise; otherwise, . . . ask the lemmings ! Every five years lemming numbers collapse to 20% of their peak numbers. Every five years they overbreed, then they starve to death, and 80% of them die. Is that our plan too ? Another dumb old history of Boom-Bust population cycle ? It used to be 'black death' brought us back into line; now it's going to be the whole planet caving in beneath us. Personally I'd rather we had a plan. Nice piece Mr Benn; it demonstrates that one more person has woken up. Now; about the other 5,999,999,999 ? Cheers Steven
If Mr Benn wants to take a first step, then he can get the government to kick HMRC into action to deal with the sale of illegaly habitat collected endangered plants being sold on eBay that I have reported to them but which they have not acted upon. But why would I expect that to happen? It'd require actual effort rather than mere talk. Having enforcement agencies like customs that actually act to enforce the illegal trade of endangered species would be a good start. Perhaps they're too busy losing the personal details of the other half of the country on a CD instead?
I agree with the comments about curtailing population growth and economic growth. Deforestation is mainly caused by the increased number of subsistence farmers clearing land for food and the demand for people in developed countries for more goods, not the cutting of trees for forest products. In fact the annual growth of wood from all land use types is three to four times annual demand, not the other way round. The annual growth of biomass captures about 100 billion tonnes of carbon and releases the same amount through decomposition and wild fires etc.(the carbon cycle). Much more of this carbon could be used for energy and other purposes. After all, electic power cannot provide all energy requirements. Regarding Mr. McEvoys query about loss of species over the last 50 years, in the next 50 to 100 years, it may be humans that become extinct!
Two animals were declared extinct in the first year of the new millennium. They are the Pyrenean ibex (6 January, 2000)and a West African monkey, the Miss Waldron's red colobus monkey (October 2000). Plus the Chinese River Dolphin went extinct in August 2007. See the Global figures for 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Total species assessed = 47,677 Total Extinct or Extinct in the Wild = 875 (2%) [Extinct = 809; Extinct in the Wild = 66]. Total threatened = 17,291 (36%) [Critically Endangered = 3,325; Endangered = 4,891; Vulnerable = 9,075]. Total Near Threatened = 3,650 (8%). Not sure optimism is justified. We need to stop breeding so many humans. In my lifetime (half a century) world population has grown from 2.5 billion to almost 7 billion. To quote David Orr: "If today is a typical day on planet Earth, we will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, as a result of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 100 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 100. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere and 15 million tons of carbon. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, its waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare." 1991 " What is Education For?".
Hi Bevan, I can't comment on the impact of photosynthesis, although I would be surprised if studies did not exist. However, there are studies which consider changes in the planet's albedo (reflectivity) and how that impacts on global warming. I imagine that they are largely focussed on the transition of ice to water, but there's probably some capture of vegetation changes in the data as well.
"Can anyone name a species that has gone extinct in the last 50 years?" Neil McEvoy,
"The cutting of population is mandatory. There are now too many people for the planet to support." Population curbs by reducing birth rates will have no effect for 50-70 years. In the meantime, population will continue to increase. So this meme can only be solved by culling the excess population. Very Dickensian. Of course, if we wish to reduce the number of people we have to remove, we should get rid of those who damage the planet most: the richest people. So just go down the list of the top earners and pop them off."My understand of the principles of Evolution is that species are continually mutating to take advantage of different niches and habitats. This might not be as quick as the losses but it seems to show that life will find a way." didn't work out too well for the dodo, did it, all this evolving away from a threat...
"Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the mid-1970s." Indeed. So it beggars belief that Mr Benn's own department now seems to be backing away from giving support to a trade ban on the species, does it not? Actions speak louder than words. If the
I cannot understand why the decreased amount of photosynthesis on land and in the oceans is not counted as a possible cause of global warming, if there is any real warming. A vast amount of land has been cleared for development, that is, cities and monoculture farms, so land based photosynthesis and transpiration must have significantly decreased. This means that more of the incident radiation from the sun simply heats up the ground. We are told that the oceans are a mess of plastic and chemicals from sewerage plus debris. I suspect that this is causing less algal growth, again another absorber of the sun's energy. If 0.04% of the atmosphere in the form of CO2 is a cause of global warming then why not photosynthesis and transpiraton? Can anyone provide some comparitive figures on heat absorption by fauna and flora compared to atmospheric gasses?
When people talk about population what they really mean is poor people 'over there'. The real problem is consumption and greed by the already wealthy. No one but Governments can stop the forests falling or the seas being emptied. Our fishing policy is a joke, and can only lead to one conclusion, and we must make the change to a non-deforestation driven agriculture. There is plenty of already converted land waiting to grow crops that is sitting abandoned. But of course that means that the businesses and governments do not get the value of the timber that they prize so dearly. And I agree entirely with Martin Jacobs. The Green community has got its priorities wrong by making every argument about climate.
The cutting of population is mandatory. There are now too many people for the planet to support. We must have power and the hydrogen cell engine. In order to generate the power we need, we must use the power of the sun on massive batteries of solar cells encircling the globe and connected by a ring main also encircling the globe with spurs to north and south. It must be a WORLD grid. This will bring power to all countries. Deserts can then be irrigated and the rain forests restored. This massive project will give employment to ALL peoples around the earth. Hence hunger and deprivation can be banished. Don't say it is impossible. If
John Cupis, Timsbury,
what is there to disagree about - except, perhaps, the optimism? indeed, wary of being dubbed a catastrophist (catastrophists are so tiresome and they try to make everyone feel so guilty), environmentalists always end on a false note of optimism. Hilary Benn's note of optimism doesn't ring true. when we can disaggregate economics and politics from international concerns such as the environment, we might make progress. sadly, locked as we are into nation states, this will not come to be and the short-term vision of poticians and economists will bulldoze the long-term necessities of the environment. Hopeful, optimistic? What do you think?
Can anyone name a species that has gone extinct in the last 50 years?
Having read the article I still fail to see how Mr Benn proposes to reconcile the obvious conflict of interests between environmental concerns and the economic growth of which, he speaks so reverentially. Surely fundamentalist market globalism is based on the core concept of exponential growth by the exploitation of finite resources? It is simply not possible for change to be enacted by the British political class. Their parties receive the lion's share of their funding from the very business interests who profit from the ongoing destruction of the planet. Why should we believe that the political class has suddenly experienced a change of heart and decided to stand with the people against big business? They've certainly never done it before.
Dr Michael Swann,
Global biodiversity may well be approaching the point of no return but it's an issue that most people can't really do anything about. One of the defining aspects of rich biodiveristy is strong local differences, there is biodiversity, literally, on our doorsteps. The government need to pull their finger out and help local people protect and encouage their own areas, that includes people in the rainforest and people in the
why do the rich western countries not 'rent' vast tracts of third world land in order to protect it from having to be used for the income of the people.
Spot on! Now what are the BBC going to do to help educate people be part of the solution? It's not enough to have negative journalism now, we need educational and inspirational articles to show the lay person what they can do to help.
Yes. Biodiversity, the preservation of forests, and the organic integrity of the oceans, and overpopulation are all far more important and immediate issues than CO2. The green movement has got its priorities wrong.
Martin Jacobs, Stockport
If we continue to be selfish it is not a problem. Then we must ask ourselves "do we care about our children or their childrens' future?" One would hope that we do care and therefore we should address the issue without delay. Hilary Benn is to be admired for his forthright statement.
Martin P Mannion,
This is all very well, but his Government's support for biofuels for transport is in direct collision both with world biodiversity and cutting net greenhouse gas emissions. It has meant the abolition of set-aside across
I am completely agreed with this article and I am giving a lot of thanks to the
Engr Salam, LGED,
And what is the main cause for this loss of bio-diversity? I'm no expert but would guess that's it mankind. With a global population increase of around 75 million people per annum is it any wonder that nature is losing out? Hilary Benn links loss of bio-diversity and global warming (man made global warming to be precise) but surely the ever growing number of people on the planet is the root cause? I appreciate how sensitive the subject is, but unless we bring population into the equation and discussion I fear the debate is not going anywhere meaningfull.
The General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2010 the international year of Biodiversity. Mr.Hilary Benn has done a great job by writing for the biodiversity. I too feel pain and helplessness in my bones when I see the plight of other creatures. I too consider myself very optimistic. But how can we remain optimistic at all the places? There are many powerful professionals including political leaders who are optimistic about infrastructural, industrial and agricultural growth rates. This optimism and penchant for the competitive norms is contrary to cause of biodiversity. If we look at the pressures of the existing trends, efforts to check human population and promotion for biodiversity come at less prior positions. Even these professionals too understand the importance of biodiversity but they succumbed to the pressures of the current trends. Just look at urban areas and the current model of development, one can easily make out that how much population pressure is there on the lands and oceans. We are constantly focussing on the result, not on the source. Even while raising critical issues we are more bothered about declining biodiversity, less worried about growing human population. We can not get success unless we restrict some of our optimism in those existing trends which are fatal for the balanced existence. I fully support the work of the author of this article. Some how, I feel we need a coordinated strategy more focussed on the source and reasonable focus on the result very urgently.
Sanjay Singh Thakur,
All the depressing statistics and stories we read every day of deforestation and loss of ecosystems never appear to contain suggestions of what the ordinary person on the street can do: please tell us which products we should avoid buying, and name and shame those companies who are contributing to unnecessary destruction of the world's resources. I'm sure if people were made more aware, they would think twice before laying hardwood flooring or buying products that contain palm oil.
Rob Morton, Twickenham
Human beings have a nearly inexhaustable capacity for innovation and overcoming seemingly insurmountable barriers. I have no doubt that we will be adequate caretakers of the richness the earth.
Ronald kern, Marlborough Connecticut,
Loss of habitat and biodiversity is probably going to be the end of the world. Global warming is very likely much less of a threat to the future habitability of this planet. All of the extractable oil left in the ground WILL be extracted and burnt. Populations (of humans) WILL continue to skyrocket. 95% of all humans WILL act with shortsightedness to improve their lives, and their children's lives, by consuming more. This is as true of illegal Indonesian loggers as of
The ONLY way to preserve the ecosystems we utterly depend on is to CUT population growth initially and then cut population. ANY other suggestion just amounts to a lot of hot air in the end - literally - which makes matters worse. Only
Hilary Benn's assessment is true. Tragically, the obvious solutions are unpalatable for our materialistic society - for example, if the UK and other wealthy countries were to ban import of all non-recycled and non-FSC certified wood/paper products (from sustainably managed forests) and take similar action with other imported goods that are destroying the Planet's biodiversity, it would have almost no real impact on our standard of living and would have an enormous immediate positive impact on biodiversity and a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren. I live in hope but time is running out .....
Chris P, Ipswich
I think Hilary Benn's concerns are real. I am dismayed at a couple of things that he says. Firstly the idea that a UN super quango a la IPCC will improve the situation - it will manifestly tie all action into inaction and waste valuable resources that need channeling into real solutions on to nonsensical posturing. Secondly his persistent belief in Climate change - caused by co2 - the evidence for this is non-existent and the "inextricable" linking of this non problem to the very real problem of loss of habitat and bioduversity. "Inextricable" to me is inexplicable. They are manifestly unrelated - and linking the two ensures that no effective action on biodiversity is possible. So a bleak article. It identifies a problem - destroys its own logic and ultimately comes up with a non-solution
Gary Winter, Strathmiglo
I am not optimistic about biodiversity, and therefore us too, as we are a part of it. We are like children who wish that everything will remain the same, without us having to do a thing. We are dreaming our planets life away. If we as a species grew up, looked around u,s and took right action, we would still have only a little time to halt the losses, but at least we will have tried. If we put the effort we put into acquisition on an individual level, and war on a global level, and turned all that mental energy that characterizes us as humans, we could do this. But I am still not optimistic that we will..........
My understand of the principles of Evolution is that species are continually mutating to take advantage of different niches and habitats. This might not be as quick as the losses but it seems to show that life will find a way. Politicians talk all the time about tipping points but its an opinion, do we really know? We have vastly modified the landscape of the
The country would be in a much better state if Hilary Benn was Prime Minister. He is brilliant at a constituency level and assured and respected on a national and international level. Surely the best proof that not all politicians are the bane of all evil!
I agree we need to seize the opportunity to stop the damage to nature and biodiversity. I would like to know why nobody in the UK takes seriously a plan by the ecuadorian government to leave 6000 million dollars worth of oil untouched in a very highly biodiverse area of the Amazon, known as Yasuni National Park and one of the most important natural reserves of the world. This 2 year old plan to leave the oil in return for contributions from the international community is now in serious jeopardy as too few countries have been negotiating the details of the plan, such as
Victor Velecela, Edinburgh
Hilary!When are you going to grasp the population nettle?The world cannot sustain its present population to our standard of living never mind the 9 billion that we seem to accept as inevitable.Big business wants more and more people,the planet doesn't.When you're grandchildren ask what became of the millions of species about to be lost how will you explain it?
steve johnson, whitwick,leics
Mr. Benn, can I direct you to the recent comments of the PM, your party leader: He said: "A fair society is one where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to fulfil their dreams whether that's owning a bigger house, taking a holiday abroad, buying a new car or starting a small business." Those are definitely 3 things - under most circumstances 4 - that, under the exponential growth model that governments drool over, typically have a heavy toll on the environment. So what's your priority?
No we are not approaching a point of no return in biodiversity. When the last human dies, the bones will be crawling with flies and ants. Anyone who acknowledges Garrett Hardin's economic thesis of "The Tradgedy of the Commons" will see that the greed and selfishness of the human race will lead to its downfall. The colony collapse of bees and the decline of fish stocks in the world's oceans are warnings of the destruction wrought by the human race. However with in ever increasing rate of population growth and desire for economic growth, the end of our species looks inevitable. But life will continue to evolve and perhaps produce an intelligent species better able to control its emotions and demands so that it can live in harmony with all other life forms.
I agree that biodiversity must be protected and sooner rather than later. Here in
JC, Northwood seems to think that cooking up some new animals will solve the problem! he clearly has as much understanding of ecology as he does of genetic engineering. The ecosystems of the world are finely tuned and loss (or introduction) of any species can have truly disastrous consequences for that ecosystem. And the humans in it too. Its' not about preserving cuddly pandas - rats, fleas, hagfish - they all deserve protection to protect their ecosystems and prevent catastrophe.
99% of all species that ever existed are extinct. 0% of people anticipating the end of the world have been correct. What we have to decide is wether or not the world we are creating is what we want. It looks likely that the world in 2100 may not look anything like the world today. Unfortunately, this won't mean flying cars and cyborgs, this mean, no wildlife, no fish, no forests. But plenty of info-mercials, ready made meals, electronic gizmos and hand sanitizer. Sounds like a bad deal to me.
When species go extinct they don't come back - there never was "a point of return" in the first place. The only species that will survive this mass extinction will be those 'synanthropic' species that benefit from our presence - such as rats, diseases, escapees from biotechnology labs and of course crops and cattle and associated pests. Lets hope
The single issue underlying environmental damage is population growth, yet it seems that no politican will even mention this. It is for fear of being labelled as racist ? or fear of alienating immigrant communities ? The