Safeguarding biodiversity is not a choice – it’s a matter of human survival

May 6, 2019

We need a shift in agriculture: away from a battle with nature to working with biodiversity to grow our food.

SeedChange (formerly USC Canada) welcomes the Biodiversity Assessment Report, an urgent and authoritative call to action. The findings describe a shocking scenario of unprecedented and accelerated extinction. More than a million species already face extinction.

“Biodiversity is life, it’s central to nature and all living beings who depend on nature,” said Martin Settle. He and Jane Rabinowicz are executive directors at SeedChange. “Safeguarding biodiversity is not a choice – it’s a matter of human survival. This report shows the intimate connections between biodiversity, climate change, food security, health and equity.”

The assessment comes at a time when the world’s attention is captured by the crisis of climate change. It outlines the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These are, in order of impact:

  • changes in land and sea use
  • direct exploitation of organisms
  • climate change
  • pollution
  • invasive alien species

Agriculture and the way we grow our food is critical. According to the report, agricultural expansion is a huge factor in diversity loss, and the most widespread form of “changes in land use” – the main driver of biodiversity loss. The report points out that more than one third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75 per cent of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.

“It’s striking how strongly the assessment links biodiversity loss to land use change and agricultural expansion,” said Jane, executive director at SeedChange. “The unprecedented loss of entire species is shocking. But it’s equally alarming that the diversity within species is also falling fast. This diversity is critical as it contains solutions to climate change.”

The assessment states: “Globally, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are disappearing. This loss of diversity, including genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of many agricultural systems to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change.”

“Agriculture is a big problem when we talk about large-scale, monoculture crops. But the ecological agriculture practised by the world’s small-scale farmers actually keeps biodiversity alive, while nurturing soils, pollinators and fragile ecosystems like drylands, pastures and wetlands,” Jane said.

But we can safeguard biodiversity by supporting those who conserve it: small-scale farmers. SeedChange supports more than 30,000 farmers in 12 countries (including women, youth and Indigenous Peoples) to carry out participatory, on-farm research to conserve and expand their crop varieties.

“The farmers we support are growing much more than biodiversity – they’re growing climate resilience, food security and economic prosperity,” added Jane. “The report points out that the areas inhabited by Indigenous Peoples do not show the kinds of biodiversity losses found in other places.”

How is biodiversity related to the Sustainable Development Goals?

The report finds that we have fallen significantly short of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the global goals for conserving and sustainably using biodiversity – with the exception of progress in establishing protected areas.

We will continue to fail if we remain on the current path. According to IPBES, current trends in biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction will undermine progress towards 35 of the 44 targets within the Sustainable Development Goals. These 35 targets relate to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land, and involve goals 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15. Biodiversity loss is therefore not just an environmental issue – it’s a social, economic, development, moral and security issue as well.

“It’s clear that we can no longer keep doing what we’ve done in the past,” said Martin. “Even when we’ve had success, it has not addressed the root causes of biodiversity loss. In agriculture, we have time-tested solutions that can drive policies. There are practices that can transform agriculture and food systems. But transformation will only happen when we reverse the financial and policy support that goes to industrial agriculture – and redirect it to small-scale, ecological agriculture.”

“Investing in agroecological practices has impacts far beyond biodiversity,” he continued. “It can actually address 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”

“Investing in agroecological practices has impacts far beyond biodiversity,” he continued. “It can actually address 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”

  • Read more about how SeedChange programming addresses 15 Sustainable Development Goals in our publications.

What policies and actions are needed?

“Biodiversity loss, like climate change, should be at the top of our agenda, and many governments have already made it so,” said Faris Ahmed, SeedChange’s policy director.

France, as the president of the G7 in 2019, placed biodiversity at the top of the recent G7 environment ministers meeting agenda. At the recent Nature Champions Summit in Montreal, Prime Minister Trudeau emphasized to the group of international attendees that biodiversity and climate change cannot be seen separately – they are interrelated.

“Canada has taken big steps towards biodiversity conservation through protected areas,” said Faris. “Now let’s see some big steps to support the small-scale farmers, fishers, livestock keepers and Indigenous peoples who are the keepers of our biodiversity, and the stewards of our food system.”

What is the biodiversity assessment?

The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is a comprehensive, intergovernmental biodiversity assessment. It builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005), and leads up to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, the next in a series of reports on global biological diversity from the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Led by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services this assessment will help develop policies to tackle the alarming loss of biodiversity, and help set the international policy goals and action framework for the post-2020 biodiversity targets (when the current 2011-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets come to an end).

The assessment was compiled by 145 experts from 50 countries over three years. It provides a comprehensive picture of the impact of our economic development pathways on nature over the last five decades.