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This blog is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide an informal policy dialogue on ecosystem management. More >>>

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Current Issue: Intergrated Solutions for Biodiversity, Climate Change and Poverty

1: Even if we can't put a monetary value on biodiversity and the ecosystems services that it supports, it needs to be recognised that without those ecosystem services, we would not be able to maintain a given level of economic activity.

Biodiversity is the variety of all forms of life, including genes, species, populations and ecosystems. Biodiversity underpins the goods and services that ecosystems provide and has value for current uses, possible future uses (option values), and intrinsic worth.

There are between 5- 30 million distinct species on Earth; most are micro-organisms and only about 1.75 million have been formally described. Collectively, the interactions of all the components that make up the total global biodiversity set the foundations on which human society has evolved.

Humankind benefits from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by natural ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services and include products like clean drinking water and processes such as the decomposition of wastes. While scientists and environmentalists have discussed ecosystem services for decades, these services were popularized and their definitions formalized by the United Nations 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a four-year study involving more than 1,300 scientists worldwide.

This grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories:

  1. Provisioning, such as the production of food and water;
  2. Regulating, such as the control of climate and disease;
  3. Supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and
  4. Cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

All these services depend on biodiversity.

The need to adapt to climate change impacts is inevitable. It is already happening across the globe. Many people are using natural resources and biodiversity, including genetic diversity, as part of the adaptation process. For instance, wild relatives of food crops are used to breed new varieties that can cope with changing conditions. In many regions of the developing world, the rural poor already rely heavily on wild food sources and medicinal plants to supplement diets and maintain health. Some species are used on a daily basis; others gain in importance during periods of drought or stress. In times of need some farmers may plant crop varieties resistant to floods, drought or saline conditions. A diverse genetic base is key to producing varieties from which such characteristics can be developed.

However, people living in poor countries are disproportionately vulnerable to the loss of biodiversity and reduced ecosystem services. And although they are responsible for emitting the lowest levels of greenhouse gases, they suffer most from the impacts of climate change.

From the foregoing, how do you see the complex inter-relationship between biodiversity, climate change, and poverty?