15. 12. 2010.

The importance of biodiversity

Most people have only a vague idea that their well-being is somehow linked to the environment, but few understand just how important these connections are. Many of our health challenges relate directly to the environment and to the profound impact we are having on the planet. The major threat to biodiversity is not just the direct exploitation of species by humans but also the alteration and destruction of habitats that result from the growth of the human population and from human activities that damage the environment.

Around 80% of people in the developing countries rely on traditional medicines, mostly from plants. More than half of the most commonly-prescribed drugs in the developed world such as aspirin come from natural sources. Human health also depends on well-functioning ecosystems. We cannot live without the goods and functions that nature provides to purify our air and fresh water, to maintain soil fertility, to pollinate plants, to break down waste, to provide food and fuel, and to keep disease in check.

The threats to biodiversity

In the Balkan Peninsula, the components of biological diversity are in better condition than those of the more developed European countries. This should be a challenge to be more deliberate in implementing activities focused on biodiversity conservation in its entirety. Considering the wealth of its flora, this region is potentially one of the global centers of plant diversity. According to recent research, in the area of the Balkan Peninsula, the presence of 2600 endemic plant species is evident.

The threats to biodiversity are omnipresent. The most important threats include:

• Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation;

• Population decline in wild species;

• Pollution / Contamination;

• Invasive and non-native species; and

• Climate change.

Different stakeholders have much in common and must join forces in working towards shared goals. Politicians and decision makers should pay greater attention to environmental issues. There are many links between well-being and environment. Although these links are emerging as one of the most powerful arguments for conservation, we need to do much more to communicate them to decision makers and the public.

Natural habitats are being carved up and destroyed by rapidly expanding urban areas, the extension of transport networks and the clearing of land to make way for agriculture. Pollution from multiple sources is degrading ecosystems. Our increasing need for the goods and services provided by nature is threatening species. The introduction of alien invasive plants and animals are having devastating impacts on native species. And then there is climate change, which is already affecting species and ecosystems and will continue to do so in the decades to come – with unpredictable and potentially devastating consequences.

By 2020 biodiversity should be conserved

Nature and people are indivisible. Everything is linked. To save the species, we must save their habitats that are, again, embedded in a broader environment. Therefore, we must tackle climate change, pollution, and the impacts of human development. It means that businesses should be active partners in nature conservation.

We are at a turning point right now, just starting to recognize the economic value of nature’s assets. The TEEB study (The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity, see more on: www.teebweb.org), elaborated by a group of experts led by Pavan Sukhdev, is demonstrating the importance of valuing and putting the right price tag on natural capital. Only by doing this we can make sure that investments are directed at maintaining and enhancing rather than exploiting and destroying natural capital.

In October in Nagoya during the COP 10 CBD a new global strategic plan of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted. This plan should ensure that by 2020, biodiversity is conserved, used sustainably and that the benefits arising out of the use of genetic resources are shared fairly and equitably.

Actions are taken at the regional level too. The European Union started marking the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity earlier this year by adopting a new EU biodiversity target for 2020. Its target recognises that we need restore biodiversity and ecosystems to the furthest extent possible. Ecosystem restoration and the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity will be a vital part of EU biodiversity strategy to direct Europe's economy onto a more resource-efficient path..

Nature conservation is essential

For species conservation the important step is assessing and categorizing threats according to internationally recognized standards such as Red Lists, the most comprehensive world inventory of plants and animals protection status. For biodiversity conservation it is also essential to implement “the ecosystem approach” as a strategy for integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use of these resources in inequitable way – UNEP/CBD.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that wildland diversity and ecosystems are maintained and will survive as biologically intact and functional as possible for generations to come. An ecosystem approach broadly evaluates how people’s use of an ecosystem affects its functioning and productivity.

We as humans do not have a choice in whether or not to protect natural world. We must do so, because our health and our lives depend on it.

Duska Dimovic,

WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme

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