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2021/07/28 Dresden, Germany
By Laura Hoffmann
Biodiversity sustains life on Earth – providing, for example, the fresh air we breathe, the food we eat, and the freshwater we drink (IPBES, 2019). In the spirit of the UN Biodiversity Day 2021 motto, “We’re part of the solution”, civil society needs to understand the consequences of their actions and everyday decisions. One way to mainstream biodiversity in various aspects of public life is to foster dialogue on it.
Opening the seminar series “Saxon Dialogue on Biodiversity” on 24 June 2021 with the leading question: “What is Biodiversity and What Does It Do for Us?” Saxon State Minister Wolfram Günther and Prof. Edeltraud Guenther, Director of UNU-FLORES highlighted the importance of biodiversity in their opening speeches. The joint seminar series by UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden was awarded the “eku Future Prize for Energy, Climate, Environment in Saxony”.
“Biodiversity is an essential prerequisite for our quality of life and prosperity. We humans are part of the biosphere. We all bear the consequences of the ongoing loss of biodiversity. The consequences have long been recognisable, globally, and also in Saxony. […] We have to raise awareness for biodiversity, talk to people, and involve them.”
– Wolfram Günther, Saxon State Ministry for Energy, Climate Protection, Environment and Agriculture (SMEKUL)
Prof. Edeltraud Guenther introduced the ongoing projects connected to biodiversity at UNU-FLORES such as Developing the Biodiversity Economy in selected Landscapes in Namibia and Klimakonform, which analyse and assess how our food system is linked to biodiversity and climate change. She hinted that biodiversity faces difficulties in the economy as it is perceived to have no monetary value, which is linked to the low awareness about the topic among civil society. Calling for action for biodiversity in our everyday life, she says, “It is about time humankind thinks of the consequences for future generations their inaction regarding biodiversity loss might have.”
Starting the “Saxon Dialogue for Biodiversity” with the global view on the status of biodiversity, Dr André Lindner (TU Dresden) introduced the definition of biodiversity, which includes the diversity of genes, species, and ecosystems, breaking down the complexity of the topic into simple terms. At the moment around 2 million plant and animal species are known, while 15 million species still can be considered as undiscovered.
After the UN Decade for Biodiversity (2011–2020), many of the AICHI targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity have still not been met. While the number of protected areas has increased, an assessment about their effectiveness is missing. In facing the two biggest global challenges of this century – biodiversity loss and climate change – international cooperation and exchange are required.
Offering the national perspective, Christa Ratte (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und nukleare Sicherheit – BMU) pointed out the importance of Natural Capital. The aim shall be to protect this capital for sustainable production. The protection of Natural Capital is not only a task for the government through conservation policies. Biodiversity needs to be mainstreamed in every area such as transportation, economy, forestry, and fishery.
Diverse ecosystems have a positive effect on resilience and climate. In the past 27 years, Germany has lost 75 per cent of its insect species which has a dramatic effect on ecosystem services, especially on pollination. Germany has a national biodiversity strategy and the BMU has built a platform for dialogue between nature protection organisations and companies, providing tools and guidelines for nature conservation.
Prof. Karsten Wesche (Senckenberg Museum für Naturkunde Görlitz) presented the status of biodiversity in Saxony and the role of the Senckenberg Museum. More than half of all species in Saxony are endangered and especially insects are immensely affected. According to Prof. Wesche, a botanist by training, the declining number of insects is not surprising as insects need flowers that cannot be found in Germany’s typical landscape type: arable land. Ninety per cent of wild herbs on agricultural fields have disappeared and with them their pollinators. This is not yet considering the effect of climate change but of land-use change induced by humans. In Saxony, 42 per cent of its area is covered by agricultural fields, 12 per cent by greenland, and 27 per cent by forest plantation. The remaining area is covered by cities, transportation, and water.
All experts agreed on the complexity of the topic and that action is needed from everyone. Dr André Lindner stated that many risks and consequences of biodiversity loss are difficult to predict including the fact that we do not know whether we passed the turning point in which it is too late to change the forthcoming catastrophe. The new UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021–2030) indicates that a change in our systems is needed to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.
During the lively discussion, the role the economy has in biodiversity conservation was raised and how governments shall support them in the transformation to a sustainable future. More important than financial support is biodiversity mainstreaming in all areas and the creation of tools and guidelines on how the transformation could be performed on all levels. Nevertheless, government subsidies do support the agricultural sector to increase biodiversity. Especially in Saxony, where agriculture is the primary land use, the interest in pollinators and their habitats is high.
A highlight in Saxony’s biodiversity is the Biosphere Reserve Heide und Teichlandschaft in Upper Lusatia. The ponds, drylands, pine forests, and meadows create different habitats for a wide variety of species. Such unique local biodiversity hotspots are very important to increase the overall biodiversity on Earth.
Biodiversity is much more than the number of species in a selected area and its loss starts a cascade of consequences that affect ecosystem services and the resources humans obtain from nature.
Another ongoing discussion in Saxony is the future of open coal mining which is also connected to biodiversity. Such landscapes can open the opportunity to restructure ecosystems and build diverse habitats for all species. However, it does not excuse the drastic environmental consequences of coal mining in general.
In market prices, environmental costs are not included, and natural capital has no price. Governments need to create a legal framework to reduce environmental impacts through compensation payments or taxes. Ecosystem and Natural Capital accounting exist but is still rather rare in companies. Markets and prices may lead to negative externalities and so-called greenwashing. Governments need to take action, too.
Not only laws and frameworks directly linked to biodiversity conservation might have a positive effect, but also regulations on pesticides and supply chains can reveal a positive effect on nature and biodiversity.
Biodiversity mainstreaming, which means including biodiversity in every decision-making process, remains the most important task but also the biggest challenge. Mainstreaming starts with civil society and every individual on Earth. We are a part of nature and need to reflect on our actions, spread the awareness on the importance of biodiversity, and take action to preserve nature for future generations.