Planet, Asia Pacific, Climate Change

Scientists warn of dangerous decline in Asia-Pacific’s biodiversity

UN Environment | Apr 24, 2018


This article was originally published by UN Environment and is republished with permission.

“Biodiversity – the essential variety of life forms on Earth – continues to decline in every region of the world, significantly reducing nature’s capacity to contribute to people’s well-being,” says the latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report.

The report comprises four assessments covering Asia-Pacific as well as three other major regions of the world. Over 120 experts from 27 countries were involved in drafting the Asia-Pacific regional report.

The Asia-Pacific region, covering over 60 countries, is home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots. Nearly 200 million people in the region directly depend on the forest for their non-timber forest products, medicine, food, fuel as well as other subsistence needs.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services contributed to rapid economic growth from 1990 to 2010, benefiting its more than 4.5 billion people.

Snow leopard
The snow leopard is one of the many species under threat in the Asia-Pacific region. (Pixabay)

And yet the region faces unprecedented threats, from extreme weather events and sea level rise, to invasive alien species, agricultural intensification and increasing waste and pollution.

For example, 60 per cent of its grasslands are degraded due to overgrazing by livestock, invasion by alien species, or conversion to agriculture, resulting in a rapid decline of native flora and fauna. Eight of the top 10 most plastic-polluted rivers in the world are in Asia; nearly 25 per cent of the region’s endemic species are threatened.

The report also notes some important biodiversity successes, including increases in protected areas. Over the past 25 years, marine protected areas in the region increased by almost 14 per cent and terrestrial protected areas by 0.3 per cent.

The assessment says that unsustainable aquaculture practices, overfishing and destructive harvesting mean that many exploitable fish stocks will decline considerably – and may even collapse – perhaps as soon as 30 years from now.

“One of the key findings of the assessment is that rich biodiversity and ecosystem services in Asia-Pacific are incredibly vital for human well-being and the region’s sustainable development,” says Sonali Senaratna Sellamuttu, one of the co-chairs of the Asia-Pacific regional assessment.

Indian black buck
The blackbuck is a type of antelope found in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Its numbers declined sharply during the 20th century due largely to unsustainable hunting, although new protections have seen the population rebound. (Niraj Gawand)

Climate change

The report says climate is also impacting species distributions, population sizes, and the timing of reproduction and migration. Increased frequencies of pest and disease outbreaks resulting from these changes may have additional negative effects on agricultural production and human well-being.

Whereas the main driver of biodiversity loss in Western Asia and Oceania is climate change, in South-East Asia, North-East Asia and South Asia crop production is the biggest threat, says the report.

Forests, alpine ecosystems, inland freshwater and wetlands, as well as coastal systems are identified as the most threatened Asia-Pacific ecosystems.

Policy options

The assessment points to the value of ecosystem-based approaches and identifies, among others, lack of solid waste management, as well as air, water and land pollution as factors undermining gains in a number of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Sustainable Development Goals for many countries.

“One of the key policy options is to ensure that biodiversity conservation is integrated into key development sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, energy, tourism and finance. We need to ensure that the message of biodiversity conservation and its importance is reflected appropriately in these sectors,” says Sonali.  

Other key policy options:

• Involve local communities in biodiversity conservation

• Integrate biodiversity conservation into key development sectors

• Enhance private sector partnerships in financing biodiversity conservation

• Promote cross-border regional collaboration for both landscapes and seascapes  

• Broad scenario and planning tools for better visualizing impact of various policies on biodiversity conservation

For further information, please visit the IPBES website.


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