It is a well known fact that global biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate, putting the survival of other species and our own future at risk. Global wildlife populations, a useful indicator of biodiversity, declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012. The decline may reach two-thirds by 2020 – unless relevant agencies act now to reform food and energy systems and meet global commitments to address climate change, protect biodiversity and support sustainable development.
Biodiversity and ecosystem services provide essential benefits to mankind: the value of 17 ecosystems globally was 125 trillion US dollars in 2011, almost double the global GDP that year and biodiversity was identified as among four of the nine planetary boundaries to have been crossed in the Anthropocene, exceeding safe limits for Earth.
The biodiversity of Great Barrier Reef is endangered by climate change. (Photo: VCG)
Despite an increase in conservation policy and management responses, the pressures on biodiversity have continued to rise. The 2016 assessments of the progress toward achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi biodiversity targets by 2020 indicate that progress is currently insufficient and commitments and efforts will need to be significantly scaled up to achieve the targets. These alarming facts call for reconsidering mainstream conservation policies and promoting new tools able to complement existing ones to effectively reverse the catastrophic trend of biodiversity loss.
Mata Atlantica - Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Due to climate change, some creatures are on the brink of extinction in the region. (Photo: VCG)
Protected areas (PA) are an essential tool to preserve biodiversity and Aichi target 11 agreed by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for increasing the coverage of terrestrial and marine protected areas in each country to 17 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, by 2020, and to ensure that these protected areas are effectively and equitably managed, linked to other area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.
A key underlying driver of activities harmful to biodiversity, inside and outside PA, is the low net benefits they receive from conserving biodiversity compared to the current net benefits of exploitation. From illegal wildlife trade to deforestation by rural farmers in order to claim new fertile lands, the benefits of harmful activities often exceed those derived from healthy ecosystems because the harmful activities often externalize costs and the conservation measures often provide public goods benefits.
We define PA-friendly products and services as P&S that do not cause any harmful impacts on biodiversity and provide direct or indirect biodiversity benefits. To be really effective however, these P&S need to replace or prevent activities harmful to biodiversity. PA-friendly P&S can contribute to shift social values and norms by establishing new institutional frameworks or raising environmental awareness, changing behaviors and preventing individuals from engaging in harmful activities even if they are economically profitable.
PA-friendly P&S also generate the following benefits: i) They are by design reliant on the health of the protected ecosystems and species, thus providing strong incentives for their providers to ensure PA are effectively managed; ii) Some P&S can occupy limited time and resources, that might otherwise be allocated to harmful activities; iii) By consuming these P&S, the general public gets to learn more about how they are produced, the threats faced by biodiversity, etc. and public support and participation for PA might increase; iv) When appropriately implemented, such P&S can also raise the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and of consumed animals.
To support the scaling up of PA-friendly P&S and nudge harmful activities toward more sustainable activities, at the national level, governments could (i) develop policies to support for PA-friendly production or service delivery (the potential for such integration in “eco-compensation” policies in China is especially noteworthy; (ii) support PA-friendly P&S in public procurements (including in their international development finance activities) by adding or strengthening biodiversity benefit requirements; and all stakeholders could (iii) gain by gathering their strengths into a global initiative to support PA-friendly P&S. It would help ensure that development around PA remain consistent with the PA’s conservation goals and provide support and guidance for research, monitoring, evaluation and supervision on PA-friendly P&S.