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Nature loss ‘to damage economies’

May 10, 2010

From The BBC

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) says that some ecosystems may soon reach “tipping points” where they rapidly become less useful to humanity.

Such tipping points could include rapid dieback of forest, algal takeover of watercourses and mass coral reef death.

Last month, scientists confirmed that governments would not meet their target of curbing biodiversity loss by 2010.

“The news is not good,” said Ahmed Djoglaf, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history – extinction rates may be up to 1,000 times higher than the historical background rate.”

The global abundance of vertebrates – the group that includes mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish – fell by about one-third between 1970 and 2006, the UN says.

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The relationship between nature loss and economic harm is much more than just figurative, the UN believes.

An ongoing project known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is attempting to quantify the monetary value of various services that nature provides for us.

These services include purifying water and air, protecting coasts from storms and maintaining wildlife for ecotourism.

The rationale is that when such services disappear or are degraded, they have to be replaced out of society’s coffers.

TEEB has already calculated the annual loss of forests at $2-5 trillion, dwarfing costs of the banking crisis.

“Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other lifeforms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (Unep).

“Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity, or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world.

“The truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050.”

The more that ecosystems become degraded, the UN says, the greater the risk that they will be pushed “over the edge” into a new stable state of much less utility to humankind.

For example, freshwater systems polluted with excess agricultural fertiliser will suffocate with algae, killing off fish and making water unfit for human consumption.

From The BBC

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