Species extinction not just a curiosity: food security and health at stake
22 May 2019 | Mitigation
as a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) shows, the human impact on the natural world is accelerating: entire populations of species are being lost faster than ever before—one million species are being driven to extinction, the report says.
“Unprecedented human appropriation of the Earth is underpinned by a set of demographic and economic indirect drivers that have risen in scale and that interact with each other in complex ways…”
And we’re not doing enough in terms of fiscal policy to turn things around.
“There has been little progress at the global scale towards eliminating or phasing out subsidies harmful to biodiversity,” it notes, citing among others the case of prices of commodities and industrial goods that often do not reflect environmental and social costs.
Large-scale industrialization has caused widespread fragmentation of natural landscapes around the globe. Habitats that were once continuous are now compartmentalized and isolated, causing a spiralling decline of some species as they can no longer disperse to find food or mates, says UN Environment’s Frontiers 2018/19 report on ecological connectivity.
Shrinking biodiversity in agriculture, food systems and diets
In the last hundred years, more than 90 per cent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers' fields. Half of the breeds of many domestic animals have been lost, and all the world's 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits. Such developments have environmental, cultural and health impacts.
Locally varied food production systems, which are more resilient to climate change, are under threat; agrobiodiversity is disappearing and, along with it, knowledge of traditional medicine and local foods.
“This needs to change,” says UN Environment biodiversity expert Marieta Sakalian.
“The sustainable management of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and seascapes can support the transition towards healthy diets, and more sustainable consumption and production patterns, in changing climate conditions.”
The loss of diverse diets is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition, and has a direct impact on the availability of traditional medicines.
Thousands of plant species exist on farms and in the wild; among them are millions of varieties, many of which are nutrient-rich and well adapted to local ecosystems.
The United Nations Environment Assembly, in its March 2019 resolution entitled Innovation on biodiversity and land degradation, “encourages Member States to strengthen commitments and step up their efforts to prevent the loss of biological diversity and the degradation of land and soil, including through their conservation and sustainable use and appropriate policies and innovative measures such as partnership arrangements, mutually agreed transfer of technology, and financing mechanisms.” It further urges governments and all other stakeholders to take biodiversity into account in all sectors of society and participate in the process leading to the 2020 Biodiversity Conference in Kunming.
We need the diverse contribution of all living beings, even the smallest of all, to ensure that we continue to enjoy healthy, sustainable diets in a food-secure future. In the January 2019 Foresight brief, We are losing the “little things that run the world”, UN environment experts remind us that, although they may be tiny, the importance of insects for our planet’s survival is enormous.