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UW Professor: Trade-offs Necessary to Achieve Biodiversity Targets


October 20, 2010 — Significant reductions in the rate of biodiversity loss worldwide must recognize trade-offs, timing and complexity, according to an article published Oct. 15 in the journal Science, co-written by John Tschirhart, a professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Economics and Finance.

Science is the world's leading journal of original scientific research, global news and commentary. In the article "Ecosystem Services for 2020," some of the world's leading biodiversity experts offer a strategic approach to achieve the 2020 goals.

The article, which sets targets to reduce biodiversity loss, is in response to the inability to achieve targets established at the 2002 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). More than 170 nations committed to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss at the global and national levels. But, Tschirhart says, meeting the 2010 targets has fallen far short of expectations.

This month the CBD is meeting in Nagoya, Japan, to consider 20 new targets proposed for 2020.

"Although the 2020 targets are a significant improvement over the 2010 targets, there is considerable room for strengthening," says Tschirhart. "The targets should be realistic so that they have a reasonable chance of being met. For instance, the first target states: ‘All people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.' This seems unrealistic."

Biodiversity, he explains, is the collection of Earth's wild plants and animals, and it forms the life support system for human existence.

"From biodiversity we derive so-called ecosystem services that include essentials such as the water cycle and soil fertility, consumption opportunities such as fishing and hunting, and delights such as a walk in the woods or wildlife watching," Tschirhart says. "The problem is that biodiversity is being lost worldwide because of human-driven factors including diminishing wild habitat, pollution, exotic species and climate change."

The targets, he says, need to speak to the interests that people have in the ecosystem services biodiversity provides, and to recognize that there are trade-offs between different services.

For example, Target 7 states: "Areas under agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity." Tschirhart says the aim of managing these areas sustainably is to ensure that people are fed and sheltered. It is not to conserve biodiversity.

"Conservation targets should be related to the services people want to secure, taking account of the many linkages between distinct ecosystem services," he says. "And over geographic regions, different services will require different levels of local biodiversity. It is inevitable that producing sufficient food, fuels and fibers to meet the needs of an expanding world population, even if done sustainably, will involve further loss of habitat. The trade-off should be addressed directly."

Additionally, some targets are interdependent and some are probably mutually inconsistent, meaning achieving one compromises achievement of another. Others targets are contingent, meaning achieving one is conditional on achieving another. Adopting success indicators that recognize the interdependence of targets is important.

The CBD together with the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), represent the international community's attempt to secure global commitments to address the most serious aspects of global change: Climate and biodiversity. The UNFCCC was the focus of much attention in 2009, the work this month in Nagoya may mark the first serious attempt by the international community to deal with biodiversity loss.

Tschirhart's research has been funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories, the National Science Foundation, the American Water Works Association, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Aid Information Agency. He has published numerous articles in professional journals and is co-editor, with UW Professor Jay Shogren, of "Protecting Endangered Species in the United States: Biological Needs, Political Realities and Economic Choices," published by Cambridge University Press.

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