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We’ve Done a Lot to Protect Biodiversity – Now Defend It

The world’s biodiversity is clearly under threat, but there have still been great strides in protecting it. The issue now may be defending the successes.

That was the gist of a plenary presentation to the World Biodiversity Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by Eduardo Brondizio, professor of anthropology at the Indiana University Bloomington and co-chair of the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystems, which has provided much of the biodiversity data currently in use.

People are too glum,  potentially leading to a problem.

“The message that we are giving is that we have failed. While important, that is not representative of (how far) we have come,” he said, particularly referencing huge numbers of successful initiatives in the Amazon basin.

But these successes are now under threat. “In some cases, maintaining advances should be as much a priority as breaking new ground,”  Brondizio, who was born in Brazil, warned.

Brondizio made no specific mention of them, but the U.S. administration of Donald Trump and the Brazilian one of Jair Bolsonaro have been rolling back environmental-protection regulations or letting enforcement lapse, in most cases arguing that they are a rein on business and growth.

In terms of successes, Brondizo noted a major increase in protected areas across the world, as well as clear improvements in pollution from, say the 1960s when the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio was so filthy it used to catch fire. In 2019, the American Rivers conservation association named it the “River of the Year” in honour of  a half century of environmental resurgence.

But poorer countries are less able to combat pollution, Brondizio said, and globally consumers still do not pay for the true ecological and social cost of the products they demand.

Economic growth also need not me as destructive as it is, he said, pointing to land use in the Amazon basin.

In 2019, production of acai fruit, Brazil nuts and cacao brought in 7.4 billion Brazilian reals using 4,000 square kilometres of land. Meat and soya production brought in 14.5 billion – but used 240,000 square kilometres.

Jeremy Gaunt is a freelance writer covering the World Biodiversity Forum for Future Earth