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Cross-roads of Life on Earth: Exploring means to meet the 2010 Biodiversity Target

Report | 01-07-2007
Photo of a large tree in the tropical rainforest with orchids and ferns on it

The continuing economic and demographic growth, and the accompanying increase in food production, forestry, intensification of agriculture, fragmentation and climate change are causing the continuing decrease in global diversity between 2000 and 2050. None of the policy measures investigated by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) appear to be able to halt this decrease to any significant degree. International liberalisation and the alleviation of poverty were shown to cause further deterioration. Further, wood plantations and biofuel production will lead to less biodiversity loss in the long term, but more biodiversity loss in the short term. Only extending the protected areas and reducing meat consumption may reduce this loss in the short term.

Trends in global biodiversity investigated

At the request of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) MNP carried out an investigation on possibilities for limiting the loss of global biodiversity. This was done in preparation for COP8, the 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention held in Brazil from 20-31 March 2006. The discussions among policy makers from governments represented focus on such issues as the progress made in reaching the 2010 target of significant reduction in biodiversity loss.

Continuation of current policies leads to substantial loss in biodiversity

Economic and geographic trends already brought the biodiversity down to 70% in the year 2000, compared to a completely natural situation. Biodiversity loss will continue at the same rate in the used reference scenario where current policies are not changed. Global biodiversity will decrease further, reaching 63% in 2050.

This concerns total biodiversity loss, which should not be confused with complete extinction of species. Effects on fresh- and saltwater ecosystems were not included in this study.

Biodiversity loss will remain unabatedly high with an expected growth of the world population from 6 to about 9 billon, for whom the average per capita income will be three times the current value. This will result in increasing emissions of greenhouse gases; rising food and wood demand; and increases in infrastructure and construction, fragmentation and pollution. A substantial increase in agricultural productivity is already taken into consideration in this scenario. Globally more efficient food production will be crucial to limiting future biodiversity loss as much as possible.

Although a further reduction of 7% seems confined, the remaining biodiversity is found largely in desolate and remote areas such as ice- and snow-covered land, desert, tundra, boreal forest and mountains. The greatest losses are expected in the biodiversity surrounding us: large plants and animals needing a lot of space, and long-living species reproducing at a slow rate.

Effect of measures highly variable

Six policy measures were investigated for their effects on global biodiversity loss as sketched above. Measures were chosen for their relevance to ongoing international discussions and negotiations. Not all of the possible measures, or combinations thereof, were analysed but the general picture created was clear. The measures were found to be hardly compensatory, and some would even increase biodiversity loss, thus limiting the chances for realising the 2010 target, also in subsequent decades.

Introducing a worldwide system of large, connected protected nature areas in combination with efficient production of food on existent agricultural soil seems to be a good strategy for limiting biodiversity loss in the near future. This increased efficiency is not only necessary for food production but also for producing wood and energy crops. Effective abatement of impacts of climate change, with possibly a limited use of extra (still natural) areas for producing biofuels, is necessary to limit biodiversity loss in the long term.

International policy trends can reinforce biodiversity loss

Biodiversity may be sacrificed for trade liberalisation of the food market

Trade liberalisation in the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) after 2015 is not expected to lead to more efficient food production but to a cheaper way of production that demands more space. This means that about 20% of the European and North American agricultural production will shift to such regions as southern Africa and South America, where land and labour are cheap and plentiful. This will be to the immediate detriment of the savannah and forests in these areas, while agricultural land in Europe and North America will be abandoned on a large scale. Worldwide this will lead to almost 7% more agricultural area and, subsequently, to an extra loss of biodiversity.

Poverty alleviation in sub-Sahara Africa leads to expansion of agricultural areas

Supplemental support focusing on agricultural development can be given to alleviate poverty and hunger in sub-Sahara Africa. This will lead, in combination with the liberalisation of world trade in agrarian products, to 10% more agricultural land worldwide. Expansion of agricultural areas and the accompanying infrastructure will lead to extra loss of biodiversity.

Short-term biodiversity loss can turn into a long-term biodiversity gain

Biofuel production only beneficial for biodiversity in the long term

Energy savings and alternative uses of energy sources, such as large-scale production of biofuels (energy crop production), will limit the average temperature increase to 2°C. Negative effects of climate change on biodiversity can thus be avoided. Since producing biofuels on a large scale requires 10% more agricultural land, the loss of biodiversity due to additional land use will be greater than biodiversity gains from avoided climate effects in the next 50 years. Long after 2050 the balance may shift in favour of biofuel production, since under present policies the climate effects will, in particular, show an increase after 50 years. Choosing a carefully selected location for energy crop production, e.g. degraded soils incapable of self-recovery, will possibly lead to a more favourable outcome.

Wood production on plantations may take the pressure off natural forests

Setting up wood plantations to lessen the pressure on natural and semi-natural forests will lead to additional land use in the short term and therefore extra loss of biodiversity. This loss may be balanced around 2040, when the remaining (semi-)natural forest can recover to natural forest. This will only happen if these forests are not converted to accommodate other human activities, such as food production or biofuel production. Again, this option is more favourable when wood plantations are established on carefully selected locations.

Less biodiversity loss by extending nature conservation and reducing meat consumption

Reducing meat consumption has a direct effect

Implementing a number of measures in the production of meat (with respect to food and animal safety, animal welfare, emission reduction and manure processing) will raise the price and is expected to result in a reduction in meat consumption of 5%. If less meat is eaten, the agricultural land necessary for cattle raising and fodder production will decrease in the short term, causing an immediate reduction in biodiversity loss. The effect of this option will be stronger in future because of the expected increase in welfare and associated meat consumption in the reference scenario.

Protecting nature slows down biodiversity loss

Protecting 20% of all the ecosystems on land and effective maintenance of their protection status will result in a worldwide biodiversity loss of 6% in 2050, instead of 7%. This effect is smaller than anticipated because protection of areas will cause human activities (and their effects) to shift to other areas. The most important gain is that protected areas can recover from damage already undergone. A careful selection of a worldwide network of protected areas can ensure the conservation of large areas containing species, e.g. large mammals, requiring a lot of space and quiet surroundings.

Further information

The above text summarises the results in the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP) report “Cross-Roads of Life on Earth: Exploring means to meet the 2010 Biodiversity Target”. This report has been internationaly reviewed and published at 2 July at the Twelfth Meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA12) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)as report No. 31 of the CBD Technical Series. The most important conclusions have been incorporated into the summary of the Second Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO2).

Author(s)Brink B ten ; Alkemade R ; Bakkenes M ; Clement J ; Eickhout B ; Fish L ; Heer M de ; Kram T ; Manders T ; Meijl H van ; Miles L ; Nellemann C ; Lysenko I ; Oorschot M van ; Smout F ; Tabeau A ; Vuuren D van ; Westhoek H
Report no.555050001
Publication date02-07-2007