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Protecting biodiversity key to food security, adaptation - expert

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 17 Sep 2012 00:30 GMT
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JEJU, South Korea (Alertnet) - Biodiversity conservation will be key to ensuring food security and effective adaptation in the face of climate change, says Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, secretary general of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“Much of the response to climate change will have to be based on biodiversity,” said de Souza Dias, head of the CBD, launched in 1992 as part of an international effort to promote sustainable development while protecting ecosystems. “Part of the response will come from new technology, but a large part will come from biodiversity, for example, agriculture,” he said.

For instance, “agriculture will be very strongly impacted by climate change all over the world. How do we adapt agriculture to future climate conditions? With genetic resources, to adapt the crops… so if we lose biodiversity we will have fewer options to adapt,” he told journalists at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress last week.

He also pointed out as climate change increases the number of extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, conserving natural areas could help produce a “buffer effect” to absorb and lessen the impacts of extreme weather on agriculture.

And preserving crop biodiversity means “you will also have a better chance of resisting attacks of pests and diseases,” he said.

Biodiversity losses, however, are continuing worldwide, despite efforts to reverse them, de Souza Dias said.

“We need to do more than what has been done so far. I think everyone recognizes a lot of good initiatives have been done to promote biodiversity conservation but overall we are still losing biodiversity,” he said. “So we have to scale up these activities and there is still a big challenge how to do that.”

A ROLE FOR BUSINESS?

Part of the answer may be getting businesses as well as governments involved, he said.

Today, businesses “are the main ones responsible for the unsustainable use of biodiversity,” he said. “We have to convince them to change the way they do business.”

That has not been easy, in part because “there are concerns in the environmental community about engaging with the private sector. Many do not feel very comfortable but I think we are in an evolving process,” he said.

In the past some environmental organisations saw their role as “throwing rocks” at those destroying the environment, he said. Today “more and more organisations are seeing that they could be more effective if they establish partnerships to discuss actual solutions,” he said.

He said that at the Rio+20 meeting in June, aimed at pushing the world onto a more environmentally and socially sustainable path, there was a clear recognition of the world’s environmental problems but little commitment to fixing them.

“It is clear that we still have to do a better job convincing the development agencies why it pays for them to pay more attention ton conservation,” he said.

“I believe many governments are shy to integrate the environment with development because of the pressure they receive from the private sector. So if we can make more progress with the private sector hopefully in the future governments will be getting a different message,” he said.

Johann Earle is a Guyana-based freelance writer with an interest in climate change issues.

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