4N – Value of ecosystems undermined

Supporting article N:  A report from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) on reasons why the environment keeps deteriorating at such a rapid rate: A failure to recognise and value services that ecosystems provide to human population.


World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)

Theme 1: Why are we so far behind in key areas?
“Without a sustainable environmental base, we will have little hope of attaining our objectives for reducing poverty and hunger and improving health and human well-being”(UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message for International Mother Earth Day on 22 April).

Ensuring environmental sustainability is the overall goal of MDG 7. It encapsulates a broad array of environmental issues including biodiversity loss, air pollution, forests, climate change, fish stocks, clean drinking water, sanitation and improvement of slums.
“Keeping the Promise”, the UN Secretary General’s Report, emphasises “Limited progress on environmental sustainability”. As well as concerns over water, sanitation and green house gas emissions, it highlights that the target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 has not been met. Climate change is further highlighted as the first of a number of key emerging issues and challenges that have the potential to roll-back gains and create obstacles to achieving development goals.

Much of MDG 7 is significantly off track; this has major implications for the other MDGs that all directly or indirectly rely on the natural environment, for example the MDGs concerned with hunger, education, gender, child mortality, health, disease. Environmental sustainability is essential for long-term poverty reduction, without environmental sustainability any gains in the MDGs will be transitory, inequitable, vulnerable and easily erodable. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 points out that accelerated progress is needed in several areas including giving greater priority to preserving our natural resource base. “We have not acted forcefully enough – or in a unified way – our fisheries are imperiled; our forests, especially old-growth forests, are receding; and water scarcity has become a reality in a number of arid regions”.

Throughout human history we have depended on nature for sustenance, well-being and development. We all rely on ecosystems for goods and services such as freshwater, food, timber, fibre, fuel, medicine, water purification, air and soil quality, pollination, pest control, climate regulation, flood control. However, we are now consuming natural resources faster than they renew, ‘living beyond our means’ environmentally.

Consequently we are heading into an ‘ecological credit crunch’ and are now beginning to see the implications of failing to safeguard our natural resource base. Climate change is the starkest example of this, but freshwater and marine resources are also increasingly stressed and polluted; once-prolific fisheries are growing barren. Demands on rivers and groundwater resources for agriculture and industry already use about 90% of the world’s freshwater. Soils are degraded, depleted of nutrients and increasingly lost to erosion.
One of the underlying reasons for environmental degradation is the failure to recognise and to value sufficiently the services that ecosystems provide to human populations. We are all dependent on natural systems, however when these systems are degraded it is often the poor that suffer most immediately. Valuing natural systems and their services (using both market and non market approaches) strengthens the case for ensuring we protect our essential life support system. Environmental degradation is prolific with over 60% of essential services provided by ecosystems degraded and used unsustainably – this impacts the poor first and hardest.

MDG 7 often gets sidelined, particularly the aspects concerning biodiversity and ecosystems. It is vital that the importance of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are recognised, effectively valued, and incorporated into development.

Communicating the role of ecosystems and biodiversity in poverty reduction is challenging given the complexity of the systems involved. Developing meaningful metrics and indicators that resonate with development audiences is difficult. However, challenges of complexity and measurement should not be an excuse for continuing to undermine the basic support systems of life on Earth.

Theme 2: Emerging issues and challenges

1. Ecosystem Degradation and Biodiversity Loss: Biological diversity, the incredible variety of life on Earth that sustains us, is in rapid decline. There has been an overall 30% decline in species populations since 1970 (WWF2008 Living Planet Report). If this trend continues, the functioning of ecosystems will be severely compromised, with drastic consequences to human societies. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment indicates that at least 60% of the essential services provided by ecosystems are degraded and used unsustainably. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes provide key building blocks for poverty reduction; their demise increases the vulnerability of the poor and seriously jeopardises the chance of meeting the MDGs. It is vital that the importance of healthy ecosystems are recognized, effectively valued, and incorporated into development work. They are the fundamental building blocks of development and critical for climate change adaptation. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes are key to growth and long-term survival of regional, national and global economies. TEEB interim report argues that maintaining biodiversity and its capacity to perform ecological functions and services is often more cost effective than replacing natural processes with artificial infrastructure and technologies. Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes also provide a range of free health services that are indispensable to human well-being and crucial to sustain human life such as ensuring clean water supply for sanitation purposes, warding off and fighting disease, and keeping humans nourished and healthy. Biodiversity also provides the compounds and materials used in traditional medicines (which 80% of the world relies on) and pharmaceutical drugs. Biodiversity loss jeopardizes basic human security and threatens the global social peace. Biodiversity is key to ensuring food security, water security and protection against natural disasters;its degradation risks sparking social unrest, government overthrows, and geopolitical conflict that will affect the poorest and most vulnerable populations first.

2. Climate Change has risen hugely in the global agenda since the MDGs were agreed. UNDP have called it the defining human development challenge of the 21st Century and the 2009 Human Impact Report claims that 300,000 people a year are already dying from climate change impacts and a further 4 billion are vulnerable. The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem. Water scarcity, food insecurity, reduced agricultural productivity, floods, the loss of low-lying lands and islands, desertification and the spread of vector-borne diseases are all expected impacts. Understanding the links between natural systems and human wellbeing is therefore key to building climate resilience.

3. Food Security: FAO estimates that global agricultural production increased by approximately 3.9% in 2008, despite this growth approximately 1 billion people were undernourished. UNEP estimates that global food production needs to double by 2050 to feed our growing population. Maintaining Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes is key to ensure productive and healthy agriculture and global food supply including sufficient food supply, higher yields and sustainable use over time.

4. The Global Financial Crisis had devastating results for poor communities in developing countries risking reversing the development gains that have been made in recent decades. The global financial crisis will have serious negative impacts on human development indicators: by 2015 100 million fewer people will have access of safe drinking water, 350,000 more students will not complete primary education,and 1.2 million more children under the age of five and 256,000 more infants will die as a result of the crisis (World Bank, 2010).The global financial crisis also risks money for development being reallocated for emergency sectoral reform or stimulus.

5. Other emerging challenges: Environmental governance and how we use and manage the global commons and global public goods, particularly in the context of an increasing global population. How we share the planets resources fairly and equitably in a way that enables developing countries to grow and develop but at the same time address ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Theme 3: Proposals to accelerate progress

Achieving the MDGs must be a key priority of the international community at the highest levels and seen in the context of human rights, gender equality, conflict, social exclusion and environmental sustainability. Countries should recommit to fast track action to achieve all MDGs by 2015. Environmental concerns should be at the center of the political agenda with urgent advocacy on the crucial need to fast-track progress on MDG 7. However we are currently seeing a shift backwards in international politics away from environmental concerns.

1. Environmental sustainability needs to be addressed as a cross cutting issue that underpins all other MDGs. . The MDGs need to be recognized as a holistic and integrated package. We encourage governments to recognize the interlinkages of all eight MDGs and the cross cutting issues. We must avoid cherry-picking MDGs and shifting resources from one MDG sector to another but recognise that they all need to be addressed at the same time and with sufficient resources by the international community.

2. To address gaps in how the MDGs are currently being approached, emphasis should be placed on the link between environment and development, valuing the vital role of the environment in poverty reduction and building climate change resilience, and the value of a Green Economy at national and international levels. Opportunities include: a) emphasising the links between climate change, poverty and natural systems; b) supporting the IYB through engaging effectively with the UN High Level Meeting on Biological Diversity which is taking place ahead of the MDG Summit and ensuring that the two meetings are effectively connected and complimentary; c) ensuring environmental sustainability is central to UNDP’s guiding principles for action to help the international community go beyond BAU and to accelerate progress to reach the MDGs.

3. Country ownership is crucial to success and this must be reflected to the highest level. Local solutions emerging through informal markets, Small and Medium Enterprises, local governments and within communities should be supported communicated and networked including south-south learning with a view to foster scaling-up and replication where appropriate.

4. Economic activity can, in the right conditions, have positive social impacts and reduce poverty. The concept of a Green Economy and access of developing countries to low carbon and climate resilient technologies needs to be promoted in a manner that fosters poverty reduction and MDG achievement

5. To achieve productive and healthy agriculture and global food supply, the present agricultural incentives need to be revised to better preserve biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes.

6. Achieving MDGs will depend on efficient use of tools such as natural resource accounting to highlight the benefits of functioning and healthy natural systems and the negative economic costs of degrading the environment. The TEEB interim report focuses on the inextricable link between poverty and the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity. Specifically, the report shows that the MDGs are hampered by the neglect and deterioration of ecosystems and biodiversity. Each year we lose ecosystem services worth €50 billion; by 2050 the cumulative loss of ecosystem services will amount to €14 trillion per year (TEEB, 2009a).

7. Investing in the conservation and maintenance of ecosystems and natural processes expands options for economic growth, supports local economies, creates jobs and income, and protects society from natural hazards and ensures long-term sustainability in the face of global environmental change (Brink et. al., 2009).

8. Preserving biodiversity, ecosystems and natural processes presents an efficient and cost-effective way of achieving the UNFCCC pledges. By reducing deforestation rates by 50% by 2050 the world could prevent the release of up to 50Gt of carbon in the next century (Bertzky, 2009). This is equivalent to 12% of emissions needed to achieve the pledge that global temperature remain below 2°C (Bertzky, 2009). Biodiversity protects existing carbon stores, reduces emissions and maximises the potential of agricultural systems to sequester atmospheric carbon (Bertzky, 2009). Biodiversity also supports adaptation, notably by making cheap but effective contributions to disaster mitigation such as stronger storm surges, hurricanes and freshwater salination.

Theme 4: Proposals to accelerate progress” and “An action- and accountability-oriented agenda for all stakeholders

This submission covers a range issues associated with poor achievement of the MDG 7 on sustainable development and the poor recognition of environmental sustainability as a key part of achieving all of the MDGs. It points out potential benefits from a more thoughtful integration of environmental issues throughout the MDG framework and how these in turn can be complimentary to aspirations for national governments and other international policy agreements. We believe a focus on several measures that recognize the role and value of environment and sustainable development would go a significant way towards accelerating and achieving success across the MDGs. These recommendations relate to implementing national and international policy measures. At a national level the focus is on shifting environment from a ministerial portfolio generally considered weak, to one which takes a more prominent role in cabinet with recognition of the environments intrinsic worth and its wider value to economic, health, employment, food security and water security.

1. Cross sectoral integration and linking national and international agenda: By MDG+10 countries agree to the principle of implementing a range of cross-sectoral measures to integrate biodiversity into relevant sectors of government in order to promote and achieve Sustainable Development.
Countries acknowledge that environmental sustainability and biodiversity protection are essential to achieving all MDGs; countries identify, implement and report on cross-sectoral measures to integrate environmental sustainability and biodiversity protection into relevant sectors of government to leverage achievement of all MDGs.
• Apply natural capital accounting by evaluating and integrating the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystem services into national accounts including GDP.
• Establish cross-sectoral cabinet committees to ensure policy coherence across government portfolios.
• Eliminate perverse subsidies that distort prices, goods, services and production and contribute to biodiversity loss.
• Identify, protect and restore areas of high biodiversity that provide key ecosystem services to society
• Integrate ecosystem based approaches into national strategies and action plans such as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action Plans, National Action Plans for Adaptation and National Development Plans.

2. Make the links meaningfully
• By MDGs+10 Summit, countries should commit to integrate poverty-environment-climate mainstreaming into national development frameworks, including through public sector management reforms and capacity development.
• Fully integrate the role of civil society, at international, regional and national level to strengthen accountability systems and ensure access to important negotiations.
• Pursue reforms on International Environmental Governance to ensure guidelines, treaty agreements and principles are joined up to resourced implementation at national and international level.

3. Aid measures
• By MDGs+10 Summit, countries should state and implement a plan to meet their commitment to 0.7% ODA/GNI and stipulate that climate finance is also a priority but additional to this target to ensure complimentarity rather than competitiveness with aid budgets.
• By MDGs+10 Summit, countries should continue to make aid more effective by fully implementing the principles agreed under the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda for action. This includes commitments to make real progress on joint approaches to environmental assessments, capacity for environmental analysis and addressing the global implications of climate change, desertification and biodiversity loss.
• As shareholders in international financial institutions, donor and recipient countries should ensure adherence to the strongest environmental criteria and social safeguards, regularly and independently reviewed. Development activities should also be screened to ensure they are not exacerbating climate change and will also be resilient to climate impacts.

4. Biodiversity protection to underpin MDG success
• By CBD CoP10 a new and ambitious biodiversity strategy and targets addressing the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss must be developed to help meet the MDG 7 target and underpin other MDGs.
• The establishment of an “Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services” (IPBES) is agreed at the CBD CoP16 as a mechanism to further strengthen the science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services and helps ensure that decisions are made on the basis of the best available scientific information on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services.