Stuart Butchart on world governments’ failure to slow biodiversity loss

Butchart said that, since 2002, the risk of species extinction has actually increased, not decreased.

We got this question. “I heard recently that world governments have failed to prevent plants and animals from going extinct. Now what?” As background, in the year 2002, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity set a goal of slowing the rate of biodiversity loss around the globe by 2010. But a study published in the journal Science in April 2010 showed the failure of world governments to meet that goal. EarthSky spoke to study author Dr. Stuart Butchart of the United Nations Environment Program, and BirdLife International.

Stuart Butchart: Our synthesis provides overwhelming evidence that governments have failed to deliver on their commitments, and the target is not being met. We found that the natural world continues to be destroyed as fast as ever.

Butchart said that, since 2002, the risk of species extinction has actually increased, not decreased, along with pressures such as habitat destruction and climate change. In October 2010, world leaders will meet in Nagoya, Japan to adopt new targets to halt even greater loss of plant and animal species. Butchart said he hopes the new agreement will lead to increased funding for conservation, and integrate concerns about nature and the benefits it provides into all areas of government and decision-making. He also hopes it will highlight the urgency of the situation.

Stuart Butchart: Our key message is that 2010 will not be the year that environment losses were halted or even slowed. But it must be the year in which governments started taking the issue seriously.

Butchart told EarthSky why he thought governments failed in their goal to slow the loss of biodiversity.

Stuart Butchart: There are three key reasons why we failed to meet the 2010 targets. Firstly, the policies tackling biodiversity loss have been inadequately targeted, insufficiently funded, and therefore, inadequately implemented. Secondly, biodiversity needs to be embedded into all parts of government and business. It’s not just a job for the environment ministry, for example. And thirdly, the economic value of biodiversity hasn’t been accounted for in decision-making.

He said that in order for the new agreement to succeed, conservation must be “mainstreamed” – meaning, the concern for nature must be shared across all sectors, public and private. Both government and business, said Butchart, should consider minimizing the impact on biodiversity while working towards their own objectives.

Stuart Butchart: It’s just like climate change. If we want to seriously reduce carbon dioxide emissions, then every government department, businesses, all every sector of society has to implement actions to reduce their carbon emissions. Similarly, we need to be considering impacts on biodiversity of all different forms of activity that are happening, through government or business.

In May 2010, Butchart is meeting with other scientific advisors to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the failed 2010 goal and how to move forward.

Stuart Butchart: We hope that the results we are reporting showing that we failed to meet the 2010 targets will highlight the urgency for really tackling the problem, and the need to increase the scale of our efforts.

Lindsay Patterson