The UN Decade on Biodiversity 2019

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IPBES Global Assessment Preview
African elephants are migrating to safety—and telling each other how to get there

This pioneering British ‘wildland’ estate could boost biodiversity and yields
(WEF) From longhorn cattle to Exmoor ponies, deer and Tamworth pigs, for 16 years the Knepp Wildland Project (on the Knepp estate in UK county West Sussex) has been home to grazing animals that are helping to boost biodiversity while also providing sustainable, high-quality meat.
Not only are herds of animals roaming free, the project has brought solutions to some of the natural world’s most pressing problems: from soil restoration and flood mitigation to water and air purification, pollinating insects and carbon sequestration.
Wildland farming can be an effective, low-cost method of ecological restoration.
Rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of more common species are rocketing.
Only the surplus of animals that the land cannot sustain are harvested, there’s no soil degradation from intensive farming practices and the amount of carbon locked in the soil is increasing. Knepp could be used as a prototype for rewilding abandoned and over-farmed land. (October 2019)

Trudeau urges largest countries in the world to support UN biodiversity plan
(CTV) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is calling on countries with the largest land mass to do more to protect the biodiversity of their land and water.
Trudeau made that call today at a special session of the United Nations via video conference on the sidelines of the virtual General Assembly meeting.
Trudeau was taking part in the Leaders Event for Nature and People that also featured the leaders of Costa Rica and Norway.
The prime minister was pledging Canada’s support for a UN initiative that aims to protect 30 per cent of land and oceans by 2030.
But Canada is the only country in the top-10 largest countries by land mass that has joined the initiative, Trudeau said.
Canada will be working with Indigenous Peoples as necessary partners because they “understand how important it is to be good stewards of these lands and these waters that sustain us,” Trudeau said.
Boris Johnson promises to protect 30% of UK’s land by 2030
An extra 400,000 hectares of English countryside will be protected to support the recovery of nature under plans announced by Boris Johnson.
The prime minister made the commitment at a virtual United Nations event.
He joined a global pledge from 65 leaders to reverse losses in the natural world by the same date.

15 September
A ‘Crossroads’ for Humanity: Earth’s Biodiversity Is Still Collapsing
Countries have made insufficient progress on international goals designed to halt a catastrophic slide, a new report found.
(NYT) The world is failing to address a catastrophic biodiversity collapse that not only threatens to wipe out beloved species and invaluable genetic diversity, but endangers humanity’s food supply, health and security, according to a sweeping United Nations report issued on Tuesday.
When governments act to protect and restore nature, the authors found, it works. But despite commitments made 10 years ago, nations have not come close to meeting the scale of the crisis, which continues to worsen because of unsustainable farming, overfishing, burning of fossil fuels and other activities.
“Humanity stands at a crossroads,” the report said.
It comes as the devastating consequences that can result from an unhealthy relationship with nature are on full display: A pandemic that very likely jumped from bats has upended life worldwide, and wildfires, worsened by climate change and land management policies, are ravaging the American West.
“These things are a sign of what is to come,” said David Cooper, an author of the report and the deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the global treaty underlying the assessment. “These things will only get worse if we don’t change course.”
The report looked at a decade of efforts by national governments. In 2010, after painstaking scientific work and arduous negotiation, almost every country in the world signed on to 20 goals under the convention to staunch the biodiversity hemorrhage. … The agreement, with a deadline of 2020 for the new goals, was a hard-won diplomatic triumph.
The report, which assesses progress on the 20 goals, has found that the world is doing far too little.
As with climate change, scientific alarms on biodiversity loss have gone largely unheeded as the problem intensifies.
Last year, an exhaustive international report concluded that humans had reshaped the natural world so drastically that one million species of animals and plants were at risk of extinction. This year, the World Economic Forum’s annual global risk report identified biodiversity loss, in addition to climate change, as one of the most urgent threats, saying that “human-driven nature and biodiversity loss is threatening life on our planet.” Last week, a respected index of animal life showed that, on average, the populations of almost 4,400 monitored mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish had declined by 68 percent since 1970.

20 January
Humans risk living in an empty world, warns UN biodiversity chief
Ahead of the World Economic Forum, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema urges governments to take definitive action on climate, deforestation and pollution
(The Guardian) Humanity will have given up on planet Earth if world leaders cannot reach an agreement this year to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and destruction of life-supporting ecosystems, the United Nation’s new biodiversity chief has warned.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, has implored governments to ensure 2020 is not just another “year of conferences” on the ongoing ecological destruction of the planet, urging countries to take definitive action on deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis.
The warning comes on the eve of the Davos World Economic Forum, where biodiversity loss has been highlighted as the third biggest risk to the world in terms of likelihood and severity this year, ahead of infectious diseases, terror attacks and interstate conflict.
The ongoing destruction of life-supporting ecosystems such as coral reefs and rainforests means humans risk living in an “empty world” with “catastrophic” consequences for society, according to Mrema, who is responsible for spearheading a Paris-style agreement for nature that will be negotiated this year.

2019

20 December
Biodiversity Year in Review
From ground-breaking research to high-level political engagement, 2019 was a consequential year for biodiversity, and 2020 promises to be even more impactful. Here are some of the moments that made a difference this year and a sneak peak at the ‘super year’ ahead.

31 October
Climate change isn’t just about extreme weather. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.
(WaPo) As fires rage on land, a massive ecosystem just off California’s northern coast that has buoyed a thriving fishing industry has collapsed. It’s an example of a much larger, potentially more ominous climate change story: the ongoing collapse of our planet’s biodiversity.
The leafy sea canopies of the Pacific Ocean’s bull kelp forests are largely gone, as a new paper in the journal Nature lays out in terrifying detail. But just because this emergency is out of sight and under the waves doesn’t make it any less vital.
This catastrophe has played out in stages. First, the kelp forests were hit in 2014 with an abnormally intense marine heat wave — the longest on record. This created nutrient-poor conditions that suppressed the kelp’s spore production.
Then came a plague of purple sea urchins, which feed on kelp. Normally, urchin populations are kept at bay by their main predator, the sunflower sea star. But a disease that proliferates in warm temperatures wiped out the region’s starfish populations. Within a year of the disease being detected in 2014, most starfish disappeared, and the purple sea urchins multiplied 60-fold.
By the time the urchins were done with these green oceanic pastures — which stretched more than 200 miles along California’s coast — they had been reduced by more than 90 percent, throwing the ecosystem into disarray. Red abalone sea snails, which also eat kelp, starved en masse as the urchin populations exploded. Meanwhile, fish species that use the kelp as nurseries fled. Elsewhere on the Pacific Coast, fish-eating species such as bald eagles and harbor seals had to look for different sources of food.
… while wildlife populations are supposed to be resilient to shocks in their ecosystems, catastrophic events such as heat waves and major storms are happening on such large scales and so frequently that many species can’t recover. Scientists are already forecasting another major marine heat wave to hit the Pacific Coast this winter.
These disasters are happening everywhere: One of the largest emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica collapsed this year after a storm destroyed the sea ice its chicks depended upon. In the Mojave Desert, bird populations have plummeted as they have failed to cope with hotter and drier weather. Off the coast of Australia, back-to-back bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef led to a collapse of new corals last year, making the reef’s recovery less likely.

First meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
27 – 30 August 2019 – Nairobi, Kenya

25 August
Global Consultation Workshop on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework in relation to Access and Benefit-sharing and the Nagoya Protocol

23 August
What the Amazon fires mean for wild animals
For the thousands of mammal, reptile, amphibian, and bird species that live in the Amazon, the wildfires’ impact will come in two phases: one immediate, one long-term.
(National Geographic) The Amazon rainforest—home to one in 10 species on Earth—is on fire. As of last week, 9,000 wildfires were raging simultaneously across the vast rainforest of Brazil and spreading into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. The blazes, largely set intentionally to clear land for cattle ranching, farming, and logging, have been exacerbated by the dry season.
… The rainforest is so uniquely rich and diverse precisely because it doesn’t really burn, says [William Magnusson, a researcher specializing in biodiversity monitoring at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) in Manaus, Brazil]. While fires do sometimes happen naturally, they’re typically small in scale and burn low to the ground. And they’re quickly put out by rain.
“Basically, the Amazon hadn’t burnt in hundreds of thousands or millions of years,” says Magnusson. It’s not like in Australia, for instance, where eucalyptus would die out without regular fires, he says. The rainforest is not built for fire.
Generally, in the midst of wildfire, [Mazeika Sullivan, associate professor at Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources] says, animals have very few choices. They can try to hide by burrowing or going into water, he says. They can be displaced. Or they can perish. In this situation, a lot of animals will die, from flames, heat from the flames, or smoke inhalation,
How might the fires’ aftermath affect species?
This is the second major blow. “Longer-term effects are likely to be more catastrophic,” says Sullivan. The entire ecosystem of the burning sections of rainforest will be altered. For example, the dense canopy of the Amazon rainforest largely blocks sunlight from reaching the ground. Fire opens up the canopy at a stroke, bringing in light and fundamentally changing the energy flow of the entire ecosystem. This can have cascading effects on the entire food chain, Sullivan says.
Surviving in a fundamentally transformed ecosystem would be a struggle for many species. Lots of amphibians, for instance, have textured, camouflaged skin that resembles the bark or leaves of a tree, allowing them to blend in. “Now, all of a sudden, the frogs are forced to be on a different background,” says Sullivan. “They become exposed.”
And many animals in the Amazon are specialists—species have evolved and adapted to thrive in niche habitats. Toucans, for instance, eat fruits that other animals can’t access—their long beaks help them reach into otherwise inaccessible crevices. Wildfire decimating the fruit the birds depend upon would likely plunge the local toucan population into crisis. Spider monkeys live high in the canopy to avoid competition below. “What happens when you lose the canopy?” Sullivan asks. “They’re forced into other areas with more competition.”
The only “winners” in burned forest are likely to be raptors and other predators, Sullivan says, as cleared-out landscapes could make hunting easier.

22 August
Wildlife summit votes down plan to allow sale of huge ivory stockpile
Some African nations at CITES conference argue sales would provide much-needed income
(The Guardian) About 50 elephants are still being poached every day to supply ivory traffickers and all countries agree the world’s largest land animal needs greater protection. But southern African nations, which have some of the largest elephant populations, want to allow more legal sales of ivory to fund conservation and community development. But 32 other African nations argue all trade in elephants must end, including the trophy hunting legal in some states.
… The Cites nations did, however, give new protection to the giraffe by voting to end the unregulated international trade in the animal’s parts.
There are fewer giraffes alive than elephants and their population has plunged by 40% since 1985 to just 97,500. However, this debate also exposed the same north-south divide in the continent. … eight southern African nations strongly opposed the new regulation of trade, arguing that giraffe numbers were increasing in their countries precisely because trophy hunting and selling parts provided incentives and funds for conservation.
But the proposal was passed when countries voted by 106 to 21. “This represents the mischievous erosion of our good conservation work,” said the delegate from Eswatini, formerly Swaziland. “Very robust populations exist in southern Africa.”

4 July
The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again, albeit in a positive way? – On the 27th of this month it will be 66 years since the 2½ mile wide 388 square mile DMZ (that stretches 155 miles from coast to coast across the Korean Peninsula) was created. In the years since it has become a major nature preserve in which over 5,000 species of plants & animals have been identified, incl. over 100 that are protected because they are vulnerable-, near-threatened-, and/or endangered, incl. the Siberian musk deer, white caped-, & red-crowned-, cranes, Asiatic black bears, cinerous vultures & long-tailed gorals (a goat species).  And, with the political justification for its existence likely to diminish over time, the South Korean government is making moves, with some input from the North, to have UNESCO name the entire DMZ a “Biosphere Reserve”.  — Nick Rost van Tonningen Gleanings 815

27 May
The butterfly effect: what one species’ miraculous comeback can teach us
(The Guardian) The Duke of Burgundy is back from the brink – and the work to conserve it has helped other declining species. Does this mean there is hope in the face of Insectageddon?
“This is a species that has come back from the brink,” says Dan Hoare of Butterfly Conservation. “We’ve halted the slide towards extinction and in some landscapes it is genuinely marching back across the landscape. That’s a real cause for celebration.” Hoare, the director of UK conservation at this small charity, headed a programme to halt the species’ extinction in Britain. The duke’s caterpillars eat common wildflowers, cowslips or primroses, but the butterfly is oddly fussy: it doesn’t like the open downs favoured by most warmth-loving butterflies, nor does it thrive in dense woodland. It requires lightly grazed grassland and scrub, or coppiced woodland.

14 May
Koalas Are Now “Functionally Extinct”
The Australian Koala Foundation announces Koalas are now functionally extinct due to deforestation
A report released by the Australian Koala Foundation says koala bears are now “functionally extinct,” which means their population has fallen below the point at which they can produce another generation of viable offspring.
There are no more than 80,000 of them left in the wild, according to the organization.
That’s down from 330,000 just three years ago.
The sharp decline is in most part due to habitat loss (deforestation of eucalyptus trees) and climate change (severe droughts and heat waves in recent years).
Koalas are are “highly vulnerable to threats including deforestation, disease and the effects of climate change,”

13 May
Schaefer: Solving the biodiversity crisis means changing our short-term psychology
“Curbing extinction is a long-term enterprise. Success is typically measured in decades, often beyond individual human careers and lifetimes. And therein lies the problem.”
(Montreal Gazette) The disappearance of species, we know, is the only human impact that is truly irreversible. Extinction is eternal.
And there’s the clue to the crisis: Time. In our hurried society, what often passes as success are short-term achievements — higher yields and higher profits, with a focus on the next quarter, next year, or next election. Eternity, you might say, requires a longer view. Curbing extinction is a long-term enterprise. Success is typically measured in decades, often beyond individual careers and lifetimes.

6 May
Robert Watson: Loss of biodiversity is just as catastrophic as climate change
Nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history but we still have time to stave off mass extinctions
One million species face extinction, U.N. report says. And humans will suffer as a result.
In a prepared statement, Robert Watson, a British chemist who served as the panel’s chairman, said the decline in biodiversity is eroding “the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Up to 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival, according to a United Nations report released Monday.
The report’s findings underscore the conclusions of previous scientific studies that say human activity is wreaking havoc on the wild kingdom, threatening the existence of living things ranging from giant whales to small flowers and insects that are almost impossible to see with the naked eye.
But the global report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services goes a step further than previous studies by linking the loss of species to humans and analyzing its effect on food and water security, farming and economies.
Highlights on UN IPBES report on species loss: Damage isn’t permanent, as long as we remedy it soon, dramatically

Photographer And His Wife Plant 2 Million Trees In 20 Years To Restore A Destroyed Forest And Even The Animals Have Returned

(Bored Panda) According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, 129 million hectares of forest, an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa, have been lost from the Earth forever since 1990. An area roughly the size of the country of Panama is being lost each and every year.
With some 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, and countless species of plants and animals losing their habitats every single day, these are absolutely devastating figures for the health of our planet, and it simply cannot be allowed to continue.
But what to do in the face of such massive environmental carnage? It can make the individual feel small and helpless, as we ponder the impact that we can actually make. Will anything that we do make the slightest bit of difference? Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado decided to show what a small group of passionate, dedicated people can do by turning deforestation on its head, and begin the process of reforestation.

29 April
To solve climate change and biodiversity loss, we need a ‘Global Deal for Nature’
By Greg Asner, Director, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and Professor, Arizona State University
(WEF) Today nature is suffering accelerating losses so great that many scientists say a sixth mass extinction is underway. Unlike past mass extinctions, this event is driven by human actions that are dismantling and disrupting natural ecosystems and changing Earth’s climate.
My research focuses on ecosystems and climate change from regional to global scales. In a new study titled “A Global Deal for Nature,” led by conservation biologist and strategist Eric Dinerstein, 17 colleagues and I lay out a road map for simultaneously averting a sixth mass extinction and reducing climate change.
We chart a course for immediately protecting at least 30% of Earth’s surface to put the brakes on rapid biodiversity loss, and then add another 20% comprising ecosystems that can suck disproportionately large amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere. In our view, biodiversity loss and climate change must be addressed as one interconnected problem with linked solutions.

20 April
Harrison Ford Calls For Environmental Action At First-Ever Nature Champions Summit In Montreal
Harrison Ford was among the speakers at the first-ever Nature Champions Summit in Montreal on Thursday.
Sponsored by Environment and Climate Change Canada, the event aims to “bring together major philanthropists, business leaders, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, Indigenous leaders and environment ministers from around the world to build a high-ambition coalition and drive global nature protection forward.”
20 April
The Earth Is Just as Alive as You Are
(NYT) Scientists once ridiculed the idea of a living planet. Not anymore.
Every year the nearly 400 billion trees in the Amazon rain forest and all the creatures that depend on them are drenched in seven feet of rain — four times the annual rainfall in London. This deluge is partly due to geographical serendipity. Intense equatorial sunlight speeds the evaporation of water from sea and land to sky, trade winds bring moisture from the ocean, and bordering mountains force incoming air to rise, cool and condense. Rain forests happen where it happens to rain.
But that’s only half the story. Life in the Amazon does not simply receive rain — it summons it. All of that lush vegetation releases 20 billion tons of water vapor into the sky every day. Trees saturate the air with gaseous compounds and salts. Fungi exhale plumes of spores. The wind sweeps bacteria, pollen, leaf fragments and bits of insect shells into the atmosphere. The wet breath of the forest, peppered with microbes and organic residues, creates ideal conditions for rain. With so much water in the air and so many minute particles on which the water can condense, rain clouds quickly form.
The Amazon sustains much more than itself, however. Forests are vital pumps of Earth’s circulatory system. All of the water that gushes upward from the Amazon forms an enormous flying river, which brings precipitation to farms and cities throughout South America. Some scientists have concluded that through long-range atmospheric ripple effects the Amazon contributes to rainfall in places as far away as Canada.

15 March
The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change
A three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has grim implications for the future of humanity.
(HuffPost) Nature is in freefall and the planet’s support systems are so stretched that we face widespread species extinctions and mass human migration unless urgent action is taken. That’s the warning hundreds of scientists are preparing to give, and it’s stark.
The last year has seen a slew of brutal and terrifying warnings about the threat climate change poses to life. Far less talked about but just as dangerous, if not more so, is the rapid decline of the natural world. The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink, according to a huge three-year, U.N.-backed landmark study to be published in May. The study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), expected to run to over 8,000 pages, is being compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries. It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth.
“There are no magic bullets or one-size-fits-all answers. The best options are found in better governance, putting biodiversity concerns into the heart of farming and energy policies, the application of scientific knowledge and technology, and increased awareness and behavioral changes,” [Sir Robert Watson, overall chair of the study] said. “The evidence shows that we do know how to protect and at least partially restore our vital natural assets. We know what we have to do.”
IPBES to Launch First Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Since 2005: A Primer
In May 2019, representatives of 130Governments will be presented, for discussion and possible approval,with a definitive new global synthesisof the state of nature, ecosystems and nature’s contributions to people–the first such report since the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005, and the first ever that is intergovernmental.Prepared by 150 leading international experts from 50countries,balancing representation from the natural and social sciences, with additional contributions from a further 250 experts, workingwiththe Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Serviceswillinform better policies and actions in the coming decade.

8 March
Butterflies were symbols of rebirth. Then they started disappearing.
For thousands of years, humans have looked to butterflies as a reassuring symbol in times of change. The Earth now is changing, and butterflies have become a symbol of something else: loss
(WaPost) The climate had brought humans and butterflies into coexistence in the Western Hemisphere, but it was not done changing, because neither were humans.
Recently, they began to notice something happening with butterflies: They seemed to be disappearing.
Insects are the linchpin of ecosystems, and 40 percent of insect species are in dramatic decline, according to study publishing next month in the journal Biological Conservation. Butterflies are among the most imperiled, and monarchs are the butterfly that people most recognize. The eastern population of monarchs — the one that winters in Mexico and summers across the United States — rebounded this year, but it is a third the size of the 1996 count. The overall trend is downward.
Each day there are fewer butterflies in the United States than the day before, says the molecular biologist Jeffrey Glassberg, founder of the North American Butterfly Association. That’s hyperbole, some say, but Glassberg is trying to make a point. He’s a man who speaks with stern confidence about what butterflies mean to the environment, about how their health relates to the overall health of the planet.

5 March
Mega-experiment shows species interactions stronger towards tropics and lowlands
Huge field experiment is providing the best evidence yet in support of a key Darwinian theory — that interactions between species are stronger toward the tropics and lower elevations.
(McGill Reporter) An international research team led by a McGill researcher used a simple experiment that mimics how plants and animals interact with each other – leaving seeds out for 24 hours to see how many get eaten. Seven thousand seed beds were deployed across a huge geographic scale, with 70 sites cutting across 18 mountains from Alaska to the equator.
“Theory predicts that interactions among species – like predation and competition – will be strongest in the warm, productive, biodiverse ecosystems of the tropics and low elevations,” says lead author Anna Hargreaves, an evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Biology. “For example, the spectacular diversity of tropical trees is thought to result partly from stronger interactions between plants and the animals that prey on their seeds, which shapes how and where plants grow and adapt,” adds Hargreaves, who launched the project while at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Biodiversity Research Centre.
Until recently, however, evidence for this key ecological theory was inconclusive and came from small-scale studies that used different methods.
Using consistent methods and seeds from the Arctic to equator, this new study shows that seed predation increased by 17 per cent from the Arctic to the Equator and by 17 per cent from 4,000 metres high in the Andes down to sea level. The research team replicated the 24-hour experiment several times during each latitude’s natural seed-producing period.

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