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'Perverse subsidies' to blame for wildlife loss, says UN

Ecologist

10th May, 2010

Promises to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 have not been met by any national government, according to the UN, which is calling for taxes and incentives to encourage action

The world is losing its biodiversity faster than ever before, despite world leaders setting targets for reducing the rate in 2002.

An update report, 'Global Biodiversity Outlook 3' from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that of the agreed indicators of progress towards 2010 biodiversity target, almost all are falling.

Coral species in particular are moving most rapidly towards extinction driven by overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification.

The only signs of progress have been the reduction in the rate of loss of tropical forests and mangroves in some regions.

There has also been continued growth in protected areas, but the report says the area of marine and inland water ecosystems under conservation is still low.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said that biodiversity 'underpinned the functioning of the ecosystems on which we depend for food and fresh water, health and recreation, and protection from natural disasters.

'Its loss also affects us culturally and spiritually. This may be more difficult to quantify, but is nonetheless integral to our well-being,' he said.

Time to reform GDP

The UNEP report blamed, in part, 'perverse subsidies' and a failure to put an economic value on the benefits provided by ecosystems for continued biodiversity loss.

A major report published last year by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiveristy (TEEB) project showed that safeguarding ecosystems could provide long-term economic benefit. For example, coral reefs were found to not only bolster fish stocks but also provide millions of pounds worth of tourism income and flood defence benefits.

As well as fiscal policies to reflect the real value of ecosystems, the UNEP report also called on governments to stop basing economic growth objectives on a narrowly-defined GDP measurement. Instead, leaders should be 'recognising other measures of wealth and well-being that take natural capital and other concepts into account'.

It said the re-structuring of economies and financial systems following the global recession still provided an opportunity to use markets to create incentives and safeguard natural resources.

'In 2008-9, the world's governments rapidly mobilised hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent collapse of a financial system whose flimsy foundations took the markets by surprise. Now we have clear warnings of the potential breaking points towards which we are pushing the ecosystems that have shaped our civilizations.

'For a fraction of the money summoned up instantly to avoid economic meltdown, we can avoid a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth's life support systems,' concluded the report.

Useful links
UNEP report on biodiveristy

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