Effects of low biodiversity

2010 was the international year of biodiversity. One might consider what governmental actions have happened in the years since?

Government action can be grouped into the following categories:

Habitat protection and restoration

The UN reports that it is estimated that every country in the world currently has a protected area system. Total protected areas cover around 15% of the global land footprint and 3.5% of the global ocean footprint.

Government committment can be at country and in some cases, regional level. In the European Union, significant habitat protection is delivered through the EU Birds and Habitats directive and through the Natura 2000 network. Stretching over 18 % of the EU’s land area and almost 6 % of its marine territory, the Natura 2000 network is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world. It offers a haven to Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.

The crucial point to remember is that biodiversity protection requires more than just designation of natural real estate. It needs effective monitoring and management.

This is where short term political systems may struggle - seeing it through over the longer term. Making actions sustainable.

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. According to the WWF, the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade behind drugs, people smuggling and counterfeiting, worth an estimated £15 billion annually.

International issues, WWF state, need to be addressed on an international level, which is the rationale behind the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), adhered to (currently according to their website) by 183 countries.

International actions have had mixed success. It is recognised in many quarters that conservation battles are being lost with the continued decline of 'charismatic' species such as elephant, tiger and rhino populations. The reality is that wildlife crime is perpetrated by highly sophisticated, organised criminal syndicates supplying a demand largely driven from East-Asia.

Species-level conservation and reintroduction programs

A quick scour of the internet shows that there are numerous case studies of governments acting through associated structures either alone or more commonly in partnership with local communities and independent conservation organisations.

A recent example is the WWF working with the Nepalese government and local citizen scientists to monitor snow leopard populations - a project funded by WWF-UK and USAID.

The challenge facing humanity is that much attention and funding centres around 'flagship' species with media appeal. To be truly effective from a biodiversity standpoint, all endangered species require judicious consideration.

Other agreements in place between nations

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ramsar Convention (Wetlands).

Bonn Convention on Migratory Species.

World Heritage Convention (indirectly by protecting biodiversity habitats).

Regional Conventions such as the Apia Convention.

Bilateral agreements such as the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement.

Global agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, give "sovereign national rights over biological resources".  The agreements commit countries to "conserve biodiversity", "develop resources for sustainability" and "share the benefits" resulting from their use.

Current legislative issues

Domestication and plant breeding methods are not new, but advances in genetic engineering have led to tighter laws covering distribution of genetically modified organisms, gene patents and process patents.

Governments are currently struggling to decide whether to focus on genes, genomes, or organisms and species.

Uniform approval for use of biodiversity as a legal standard has not been achieved.