Biodiversity conservation areas need better funding
For thousands of years, vultures performed a public health service for India. They ate carrion of all kinds – including dead sacred cows – thus removing health hazards from the street. Things changed after the painkiller diclofenac arrived in the 1990s and became a popular veterinary drug.
Diclofenac is extremely inexpensive, so it quickly came into widespread use, especially by dairy farmers and owners of draught and pack animals. In vultures, however, the drug causes kidney failure. They died en masse. Within a single decade, the population shrank by more than 95 %. With dire consequences: there was no longer a dead cow disposal service. Also, perhaps even more seriously, the number of feral dogs increased because, with no vultures around, they now ate more carrion.
Dogs carry rabies and they bite humans, so there was a sharp increase in rabies infection. The decline in vulture populations probably caused the deaths of 50,000 people.
This example shows the kind of consequences that the extinction of a single species can have. It also shows that the impacts cannot be gauged in advance because there can be chain reactions.
The disappearance of a species is not in itself unusual. Animals and plants live in a constantly changing environment. Either they adapt to change or they are superseded by species that manage to adapt better. The appearance and disappearance of species is part of the eternal cycle of evolution.
But the rate of species loss today is beyond normal. Every 11 minutes, one species currently becomes extinct. That is as much as a hundred times faster than in the time before the world was dominated by humans – a clear indication that, as in the case of diclofenac usage in India, humans are causing the deaths. If we think of Earth’s history as a 24-hour day, human beings do not make an appearance until two minutes to midnight. But even in that short time, humanity has overused three quarters of the Earth’s resources.
According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 1 million of the estimated 8 million species on Earth are currently endangered. Whether – and to what extent – the species concerned will prove vitally important to humans is something that scientists cannot yet accurately predict.
What they do know, however, is that the more species safeguard an ecosystem, the more stable that ecosystem becomes. Accordingly, it provides its services more reliably.
Diversity thus is a kind of life insurance. If one species fails – due to drought or heat, for instance – others take over its functions. So by accelerating the extinction of species, we are cancelling more and more of our life insurance.
Basis for life and economic factor
Whether we are rich or poor, live in the northern or southern hemisphere of the Earth, we all depend on the services that nature provides. We need water, air, food, medicinal herbs, forests and a great deal more besides. Nature also plays an indispensable role in economic life (see Katja Dombrowski on our D+C/E+Z platform). For example, it enables the fisheries sector alone to turn over around $ 350 billion a year – much of it sadly unsustainable – and, absent Covid-19, earns Africa around $ 29 billion a year from ecotourism. It is also reckoned that 80 % of the UN Sustainable Development Goals will become unattainable if species continue to die out at current rates.
The main drivers of diversity depletion include not only the overexploitation of natural resources but also the changes in land use, mainly due to the relentless expansion of agriculture (see Susanne Neubert on our D+C/E+Z platform). Another driver is human-made climate change because many species are fatally stressed by higher temperatures. Conversely, biodiversity loss itself fuels climate change.
Forests, peatlands and soils are natural carbon sinks that can effectively help mitigate atmospheric carbon dioxide. They must not be further decimated, drained or eroded. An important reason is that natural carbon sequestration is significantly cheaper and more predictable in its consequences than expensive geoengineering with so far untested technologies. Climate change and biodiversity are thus intricately linked; one cannot be tackled without the other. Biodiversity conservation is an important building block for climate protection.
Well-managed conservation areas are considered an important way to safeguard biodiversity – provided that local communities are closely involved. Without them, nature conservation will fail. Ample evidence has been furnished in recent decades.
Despite commitments to ambitious international targets, however, only around 16 % of the world’s land area and around eight percent of the oceans are currently protected – significantly less than the 30 % recommended by scientists (see Wanjohi Kabukuru on our D+C/E+Z platform).
Not enough money for developing countries
All too often, however, protection is not effective enough in the areas concerned. There is a simple but serious reason: 80 % of all species are concentrated on around 20 % of the Earth’s surface. Most of that 20 % is in developing countries. They typically lack the money to manage conservation areas well and to involve the local community convincingly. This is especially true in coronavirus times, with disadvantaged countries struggling in particular to cope with devastating pandemic impacts.
A large share of international funding for nature conservation is spent in more prosperous countries. It is not flowing to the biodiversity hotspots in the developing world. Only 19 % serve this purpose. Accordingly, vast areas go unprotected, even though governments have declared them to be conservation areas.
Such areas have become known as “paper parks”: sanctuaries that exist only on paper and do not fulfil their actual purpose. According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), around 90 % of 282 protected areas examined in sub-Saharan Africa are underfunded, for example. To help remedy this deplorable state of affairs, KfW Development Bank has developed a new financing instrument – the Legacy Landscapes Fund (LLF) (see box) – on behalf of the BMZ.
As emphasised by outgoing Gerd Müller, Germany’s federal minister for economic cooperation and development, and Stefanie Lang, the LLF director, more funding for biodiversity needs to be flanked by a commitment by the international community to place 30 % of the Earth’s land and ocean under protection by 2030. In an op-ed in the German daily Handelsblatt, they called for a new “Paris moment” for biodiversity, like the one climate policy experienced in the French capital in 2015. The Kunming Biodiversity Conference in China, which enters a decisive phase in April 2022, would be a good opportunity.
Friederike Bauer works as a freelance journalist on foreign and development policy issues. KfW Development Bank belongs to the institutions she writes for, but this essay was commissioned by D+C/E+Z.