Can the world save a million species?

Climate change threatens amphibians and corals: a case study of the critically-endangered bleeding toad (Leptophryne cruentata)

A single estimate says one million plant and animal species face extinction within the next two decades, a rate of loss that is 1,000 times greater than expected. Humans use about 50,000 wild species routinely, and 1 out of 5 people of the world’s 8 billion population depend on those species for food and income, the report said.

Overall, the deal marks progress toward tackling biodiversity loss, but it is not the drastic change scientists say they were hoping for. “I am not so sure that it has enough teeth to curb the activities that do most of the harm,” Diaz says.

Amphi and reef-forming corals are among the most at risk groups. The critically-endangered bleeding toad (Leptophryne cruentata), which is found in Mount Gede Pangrango National Park, is one of the more than 40% of amphibians that are threatened with extinction.

These toads were thought to be extinct until the year 2000, when some were spotted by a team led by Mirza Kusrini, a herpetologist at Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia. But the researchers found that the amphibians were infected with chytrid (Chytridiomycota sp.), a fungus that has devastated global amphibian populations. The tiny toad is known for its ” splatter-like spots” on its body, and according to Kusrini climate change is making life hard for it. Warm weather can stimulate fungal outbreaks and shift the timing of behaviours, such as the toads’ breeding season, making the amphibians vulnerable.

Global warming, which has been raising sea temperatures, is also responsible for harming coral reefs around the globe (see ‘Threat assessment’). In a 9 year period, coral died out in 14% of the world’s coral reefs.

How much biodiversity do we have? The role of diversity, bioavailability and astrophysics in ecological resilience, says Shahid Naeem

It’s difficult to predict, because doing so requires knowledge of which species are present in a particular ecosystem, such as a rainforest, and what functions they have, says Shahid Naeem, an ecologist at Columbia University in New York City. Much of that information is often unknown. There is research showing that ecosystems with less diversity are more likely to be less efficient at converting resources into food and fuel.

Both of those environments are good at decomposing and recycling. For example, studies show that dead organisms are broken down, and their nutrients recycled, more quickly when a high variety of plant litter covers the forest floor4. Naeem points out that more-diverse systems have more resilience, but low biodiversity systems can bounce back from a fire.

If we lose some parts of our system, it will not function very efficiently and it will not be very robust. The science behind it is rock solid.


The World Wide Wildlife Sanctuary: A Critical Framework for Conservation, Monitoring, and Reducing Invasive Substituations in the Era of Biodiversity Loss

Ecosystems also provide clean water and can sometimes prevent diseases from spreading to humans. Kusrini says the services degrade when a species is lost. For example, most amphibians eat insects, many of which are considered pests, such as cockroaches, termites and mosquitoes. There has been a rise in cases of Malaria caused by mosquitoes in places where amphibian populations have collapsed. When insect numbers rise and people use pesticides to kill them, you know they are gone.

Eradicating invasive species is another important conservation strategy, and the framework’s draft currently calls for cutting the introduction of such species in half. Some estimates suggest that invasive predators, such as cats and rats, are responsible for more than half of all extinctions of birds, mammals and reptiles7.

It is important for nations to reach an agreement on a framework with quantifiable targets so that progress can be monitored and that countries can be held accountable if they don’t meet their targets, researchers say. “I’m afraid what will happen is, they will produce a long list of ‘waffle’,” Pimm says. We have to have quantification.

Some advocates wanted tougher language around subsidies that make food and fuel so cheap in many parts of the world. The document only calls for identifying subsidies by 2025 that can be reformed or phased out and working to reduce them by 2030.

Nevertheless, large conservation groups celebrated the adoption of the new framework. Andrew Deutz, a director at the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement that if more people grasped the pace, severity and long-term implications of biodiversity loss, the world might have focused on Montreal rather than Doha for the World Cup.

The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations: What’s Missing? Report on the Uruguayan delegation at the 15th International COP15 Climate Conference

The financing is one of the issues that has caused 70 delegates from African, South American and Asian countries to walk out of the negotiations. They returned several hours later.

Brazil, speaking for developing countries during the week, said in a statement that a new funding mechanism dedicated to biodiversity should be established and that developed countries provide $100 billion annually in financial grants to emerging economies until 2030.

“All the elements are in there for a balance of unhappiness which is the secret to achieving agreement in U.N. bodies,” Pierre du Plessis, a negotiator from Namibia who is helping coordinate the African group, told The Associated Press. Everyone got something they wanted, not everything they wanted. Let’s see if there is a spirit of unity.

A framework was adopted which says protected areas should be created to remember and respect the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.

But the Wildlife Conservation Society and other environmental groups were concerned that the draft puts off until 2050 a goal of preventing the extinction of species, preserving the integrity of ecosystems and maintaining the genetic diversity within populations. They don’t think timeline is enough.

The 30×30 target is a big green lie and some human rights advocates are skeptical. Survival International said on Facebook that the land grab would force millions of Indigenous peoples off their ancestral lands.

The new framework is just the beginning, and it’s hard to make progress while trying to avoid harms that have been committed in the past.

“To return to World Cup metaphors – it really did feel like a championship game heading into extra time in knife-edge fashion,” Deutz said. “The big difference is … for the global biodiversity community, the next phase of hard work already beckons.”

The most significant biodiversity conference ever was held by Steven Guilbeault, the Canadian environment minister. He said at a session where the framework was adopted that they had taken a step forward in history.

At several points during the United Nations summit, which ran from 7–19 December, arguments over details threatened to derail a deal. In the final hours of negotiations, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) objected to how the framework would be funded. Nonetheless, Huang Runqiu, China’s environment minister and president of COP15, brought the gavel down on the agreement.

Researchers say the deal is poor on tackling drivers of biodiversity loss because it doesn’t explicitly call out the most damaging industries, such as commercial fishing and agriculture.

“I would have liked more ambition and precision in the targets” to address those drivers, says Sandra Diaz, an ecologist at the National University of Córdoba, in Argentina.

With the reviews included, the framework is a good start, and will allow us to understand progress and the reasons for success and failure, says Stuart Pimm, an astronomer at Duke University.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), including the DRC, had called for a brand-new, independent fund for biodiversity financing. Lee White, environment minister from Gabon, told Nature that biodiversity-rich LMICs have difficulty accessing the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the current fund held by the World Bank in Washington DC, and that it is slow to distribute funds.

But France and the European Union strongly objected to a new fund, arguing it would take too long to set up. The framework instead compromises by establishing a trust fund by next year under the GEF. The GEF has to reform its process to address LMIC concerns in the final agreement.

A Unifying Framework for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction: Implications for a Global Oceans Treaty

One of the sticking points was how to share the benefits of genetic information collected from plants, animals, and other organisms. Inbiocentrism-rich regions where genetic material is gathered have little control over the commercialization of the information, and no way to recover financial or other benefits. But countries came to an agreement to set up a mechanism to share profits, the details of which will be worked out by the next international biodiversity summit, COP16, in 2024.

The goal of the U.N. meetings, running through March 3, is to produce a unified agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of those vast marine ecosystems. The talks, formally called the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction, resume negotiations suspended last fall without agreement on a final treaty.

Nearly two-thirds of the ocean lies outside national boundaries on the high seas where fragmented and unevenly enforced rules seek to minimize human impacts.

Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Canada’s Dalhousie University, said that the ocean was the life support system of our planet. “For the longest time, we did not feel we had a large impact on the high seas. He said that the idea has changed as a result of expanded deep sea fishing, mining, and plastic pollution.

The U.N. talks will focus on key questions, including: How should the boundaries of marine protected areas be drawn, and by whom? How should institutions assess the environmental impacts of commercial activities, such as shipping and mining? Who has the ability to enforce rules?

“This is our largest global commons,” said Nichola Clark, an oceans expert who follows the negotiations for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. The upcoming round of negotiations are believed to be the ones that will get a treaty done.

An urgent need for an accord has been stated by a marine scientist at a university in England. With deep-sea mining that could be a real threat to the environment, it’s really pressing to understand what lives on the ocean floor are.

Experts say that a global oceans treaty is needed to actually enforce the U.N. Biodiversity Conference’s recent pledge to protect 30% of the planet’s oceans, as well as its land, for conservation.

Jessica Battle said that a legally binding framework is needed to allow countries to achieve their goals.

Monica Medina is an assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. “This agreement seeks to create, for the first time, a coordinated approach to establishing marine protected areas on the high seas,” she said. It is time to finish the job.

Gemma Nelson, a lawyer from Samoa who is currently an Ocean Voices fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said that small Pacific and Caribbean island countries were “especially vulnerable to global ocean issues,” such as pollution and climate change, which generally they did not cause nor have the resources to easily address.


Bringing the knowledge of indigenous peoples to the next generation: a case study of the high seas and ocean-level impacts on environmental issues across Latin America

“Getting the traditional knowledge of local people and communities recognized as valid” is also essential to protect both ecosystems and the ways of life of Indigenous groups, she said.

With nearly half the planet’s surface covered by high seas, the talks are of great importance, said Gladys Martínez de Lemos, executive director of the nonprofit Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense focusing on environmental issues across Latin America.

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