Human Development at the Service of Wildlife
Por Julio Godoy
Improving the quality of life in the communities of the developing South is indispensable for protecting species diversity, said eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson in a conversation with Tierramérica.
Human development in the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia is essential for protecting the diversity of plant and animal species, says biologist Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus of Harvard University and one of the ''fathers'' of the concept of biodiversity.
''Eighty percent of the human population lives in the countries of the developing South, where most of the species, especially in the tropic jungles of Africa, Latin America and Asia, are also concentrated,'' he said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
''The problem lies in that the human populations in those regions destroy the natural resources around them, and with them the species, because they have no other means of subsistence. This is why improved living conditions in developing countries is indispensable for saving biodiversity,'' said the biologist.
Wilson urges all rich countries ''to increase development aid for those regions, and include in the corresponding programs goals for conservation of biodiversity.''
Wilson was in Paris for the international conference ''Biodiversity: Science and Governance'', which took place here Jan. 24-28, drawing hundreds of experts and officials from around the world.
The aim of the conference was to seek ways to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity, approved at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, organized by the United Nations in 1992.
The Convention entered into force in 1993, although the U.S. government never ratified it, and the text remains dead letter due to the lack of instruments that would compel governments, companies and individuals to protect biodiversity.
Wilson says such protection is essential for guaranteeing environmental security for humanity, because the different species provide free services to humans, such as cleaning up water, stabilizing the atmosphere, and creating fertile soil.
''Economists and ecologists have calculated that the annual value of those services, provided free of cost to humanity, is some 30 trillion dollars, or more than the global gross domestic product,'' he said.
At the Paris conference, scientists and government officials recognized that human activities are the driving force behind the acceleration of species extinction: some 16,000 types of animals and 60,000 types of plants are endangered.
The rapid process of extinction, similar in magnitude to the disappearance of the dinosaurs, is occurring despite the international conventions and numerous speeches about the risks that this poses for the planet, said the conference participants.
For example, in 2002 the signatory countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity pledged at The Hague to reduce significantly the rate of decline of biodiversity by the year 2010, but that didn't prevent governments like France from authorizing construction in highly sensitive regions, like the glaciers of the Alps.
Less than two months ago, Paris authorized exploitation of the rocky glaciers of Vars Pass in the French Alps, near the Italian border. That region is one of two ecosystems in the world where the Brachyta borni is found. This extremely rare beetle was first discovered in 1997.
Because of situations like this, ''we scientists are under the impression that there is no progress in protecting biodiversity, despite the fact that the crisis has reached historic proportions,'' said Michel Loreau, president of the Paris conference's scientific committee.
''We need to show governments, private companies and individuals the environmental consequences of their actions are,'' through clear and understandable indicators about species extinction, which illustrate the crisis of biodiversity, said scientists in a public appeal issued during the conference.
The experts suggested creating a new scientific structure, similar to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program in 1988. The task of the IPCC is to use scientific information to provide relevant information for understanding the process of global warming.
But an entity of this type already exists: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, launched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in June 2001, to provide information about the consequences for humankind of ecosystem and species destruction.
Beyond entities for analysis and diagnosis, the priority, agree experts, is to make an inventory of the world's species -- a colossal effort for which scientists lack sufficient resources.
Says Philippe Bouchet, professor at the National Museum of Natural History, in Paris: ''To catalog some 10,000 species of birds, we have a veritable army of data collectors, thanks to institutions like the League for Bird Protection, or BirdLife International. But for the more than one million species of insects, our capacity of gathering information is not even a hundredth of that.''
''For a species to exist in our conscience, it must have a name. But if society doesn't want to invest in ensuring vital coexistence with 30 million species, it is also going to consider an inventory a futile endeavor,'' said Bouchet.
* Julio Godoy is an IPS correspondent