In 2002 the CBD adopted the 2010 Biodiversity Target, an international commitment to reduce biodiversity decline by 2010. However, the target was never met and the world is now negotiating its revision.
What is biodiversity?
It is the network of life. Every living organism, the variation among and within species, the variation in the genetic make-up of species and all the processes that support these species are collectively known as biodiversity.
We are biodiversity, along with the 13 million other species on our planet, and the global cycles that allow all these organisms to exist – the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, the oxygen cycle, to name a few.
Why does biodiversity matter?
Our lives depend on it. Loss of biodiversity will have drastic impacts for livelihoods, human health, economies and our way of life. The services and goods that nature provides and that we take for granted such as the food we eat, the water we drink and the air that we breathe, will be lost if the current rate of biodiversity loss continues.
The poor are especially vulnerable because they do not have the means to produce or even use technology to solve their problems. Everyone is affected by the effects of natural disasters, worsened by the loss of local biodiversity, or by rising food costs and polluted water catchments and it is everybody’s challenge to solve the problems left in the wake of biodiversity loss.
- In KwaZulu-Natal alone about 70 percent of people rely on traditional medicine for their primary form of healthcare and this comes from indigenous plants and animals - biodiversity
- In 1995 the expenditure on medicinal plants in South Africa was R768 million. Several hundred thousand people are directly employed in the industry
- KwaZulu-Natal’s wetlands are worth an estimated R200 000 per hectare per annum for their water catchment and purification value, and forests around R21 000 per hectare per annum
- The economic losses of ecosystem services in the Fynbos due to alien plant invasion amount to almost R700 million per year
- Globally economic losses due to invasive alien species amount to almost five percent of the world economy
- Wood fuel is the main source of energy for about 75 percent of rural South African families
- Rural and urban households use woodland products to an estimated value of R5 500 per household per year
- Biodiversity allows our planet to adapt to changes and so ensure our future survival. The less biodiverse the planet is, the more vulnerable we are and less able we are to adapt
What is the status of the Earth’s biodiversity?
It is declining rapidly. Experts estimate that at least 34 000 plant and 5 200 animal species face extinction today and this will increase dramatically if current trends continue. Biodiversity is being lost at 100 times the rate of previous extinctions documented in fossil records. Human beings are driving much of this.
- The human population increased by 34 percent since 1987 and there are currently about 6.5 billion people on the planet, with the number still rising. Consumption rates also increased by 300 percent in this time
- We lose 50 000 km2 of primary forest every year
- More land was converted to cropland between 1950 and 1980 than between 1700 and 1850
- About 20 percent of world’s coral reefs were lost and another 20 percent degraded in the past few decades
- About 35 percent of mangroves were lost in the past few decades
- Desertification costs the world an estimated US$42 billion per year
What is the status of South Africa’s biodiversity?
Comparatively good. However it is declining.
- South Africa contains the third highest level of biodiversity of all the countries in the world
- South Africa is home to 10 percent of the planet’s plants and seven percent of reptiles, birds and mammals
- Our coastline contains 15 percent of world’s coastal species
- Only 18 percent of our river systems are intact while 54 percent are Critically Endangered
- More than 50 percent of our wetlands have been destroyed
- Alien plants have invaded more than 10 million hectares of our land, obliterating indigenous species
- 34 percent of our terrestrial ecosystems are classified as threatened
- 20 of our 25 key commercial marine fish species are over-fished and stocks have collapsed
What can you do?
- Learn about biodiversity and teach others what you’ve learnt.
- When shopping, always choose products that use less packaging.
- Buy locally produced products as much as possible.
- Grow your own fruit and vegetables.
- Question retailers about their products and ask them to stock environmentally responsible products.
- Buy only what you need.
- Replace alien plants with indigenous ones.
- Use fewer pesticides and other chemicals, or switch to natural alternatives.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle.
- Use the power of your vote to protect biodiversity.
- Support biodiversity conservation initiatives such as the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
This year is also significant as for the first time in the history of the United Nations a high level meeting of the General Assembly devoted to Biodiversity will be held in the United States of America in September with the participation of heads of states and governments.
Political will to preserve life is gaining momentum. This marks the start of a global campaign which will culminate in a Global Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, Japan. This International Year of Biodiversity is the beginning of a long-lasting alliance of all stakeholders to meet the unprecedented challenges facing humanity of the loss of biodiversity compounded by climate change.
Each month has a dedicated theme linking the benefits of biodiversity to society in every way.
- January: Biodiversity Is Life
- February: Biodiversity Is Precious
- March: Biodiversity Is Fresh Water
- April: Biodiversity Is Food and Energy
- May: Biodiversity Is Wealth
- June: Biodiversity Is Security
- July: Biodiversity Is Clean Air
- August: Biodiversity Is Health
- September: Biodiversity Is Heritage
- October: Biodiversity Is Beautiful
- November: Biodiversity Is Threatened
- December: Biodiversity Is Our Future