November 12, 2016 Biodiversity Written by Greentumble
What are governments doing to protect biodiversity
2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity.

Just over five years later, it would be worthwhile to look back and see what has been achieved in terms of halting biodiversity loss as well as how our governments have performed in terms of protecting biodiversity.

It is in fact quite timely to do such a review of how we fared as a recently released report highlights that global wildlife populations have fallen by 58 percent since 1970 and that if the trend continues the decline could reach two-thirds among vertebrates by the end of 2020 [1].

Steps taken by governments to conserve biodiversity


Species conservation and re-introduction projects

Evidence shows that some species have been disproportionately affected and their population levels have reached critically low numbers; so targeted action is needed.

In such cases, governments can take species-specific measures to conserve remaining populations; the nature of these measures will largely depend on what are the causes of species decline. Measures include legislative provisions that prohibit the persecution of endangered species or softer policy mechanisms such as information-exchange platforms.

For example, for some species, loss of habitat is a critical concern. In Indonesia, orangutans are most at risk due to the conversion of their natural habitat into palm oil plantations – a product found in more than half of packaged products globally [2]. To address this, government and stakeholders are setting up certification schemes provided to those who can prove that palm oil was sourced from areas that are not considered “of high conservation value”.

If a species is no longer found in the wild, action may be taken to re-introduce it. A successful story of species re-introduction is the case of the black-footed ferrets, once thought to be globally extinct.

Over the last thirty years, efforts by many North American state and federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation organizations and private landowners have helped restore the black-footed ferret population to nearly 300 animals [3].

Habitat restoration and setting up protected areas

While species-specific action is sometime necessary, more often than not seeking to preserve and restore ecosystems is preferable. The reason is that this helps maximise the overall benefits that healthy ecosystems can provide not only to our environment but also to our own health and wellbeing.

Well-functioning ecosystems deliver clean air and water, fertile soils and many other benefits.

Governments have committed globally but also at regional levels to protect some biodiversity-rich areas of nature.

In the EU, this is delivered though the Natura 2000 network and supported by one of the very first pieces of EU environment law ever to be adopted, the EU Birds and Habitats Directive.

According to the UN, today it is estimated that every country in the world has a protected area system; protected areas cover around 15.4 percent of global land area and 3.4 percent of global ocean area [4].

But the key to delivering on biodiversity is not just the designation of protected sites but their effective management. This is where most administrations may not deliver on expectations due to lack of political appetite, funds or expertise.

Tackling wildlife crime

One of the main reasons that a lot of species are facing extinction is the continued illegal hunting and trading of protected animals. This is a cross-border issue which merits further attention by governments across the globe.

For example, it is estimated that 220-450 snow leopards are killed each year by poachers or farmers, a crime which often goes undetected in the remote mountains of central Asia.

Considering that there are as few as 4,000 snow leopards [5] left in the wild, this is a most concerning statistic.

These are all areas where governments have worked across borders and with other stakeholders to put a stop to biodiversity loss. While this has been very much necessary, what is still needed is a step-change to how we plan and execute human activities at large.

Biodiversity should be mainstreamed and should be an integral consideration when it comes to infrastructure, farming, forestry and fisheries policies. Failure to do so will mean that the biodiversity of living organisms on our planet will continue to decline.