Humanity depends on a diverse natural world, but many important conservation areas are underfunded, especially in developing countries | D + C


Humanity needs a diverse natural world. We depend on the services it provides and we need its help to tackle the climate crisis. However, many important protected areas in developing countries are underfunded. The KfW Development Bank aims to change that – with a new fund.

For thousands of years, vultures have provided public health service to India. They ate carrion of all kinds – including dead sacred cows – eliminating health risks from the streets. Things changed after the arrival of the pain reliever diclofenac in the 1990s and became a popular veterinary medicine.

Diclofenac is extremely inexpensive, so it quickly spread, especially by dairy farmers and owners of draft and pack animals. In vultures, however, the drug causes kidney failure. They died en masse. In a single decade, the population has shrunk by more than 95%. With disastrous consequences: there was no longer a dead cow disposal service. Additionally, perhaps even more seriously, the number of wild dogs increased because, with no vultures around, they were now eating more carrion.

Dogs carry rabies and they bite humans, so there has been a sharp increase in rabies infection. Declining vulture populations probably caused the death of 50,000 people.

This example shows the kind of consequences that the extinction of a single species can have. It also shows that the impacts cannot be measured in advance because there can be chain reactions.

The disappearance of a species is not in itself unusual. Animals and plants live in a constantly changing environment. Either they adapt to change, or they are supplanted by species that manage to adapt better. The appearance and disappearance of species are part of the eternal cycle of evolution.

But the rate of cash loss today is beyond normal. Every 11 minutes, a species is currently extinct. This is up to a hundred times faster than it was back in the days before the world was dominated by humans – a clear indication that, as in the case of the use of diclofenac in India, humans are in the origin of deaths. If we think of Earth’s history as a 24-hour day, humans do not appear until two minutes to midnight. But even in a short period of time, humanity has overexploited three quarters of the Earth’s resources.

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 1 million of the 8 million species estimated on Earth are currently at risk. Whether – and to what extent – the species involved will prove to be of vital importance to humans is something scientists cannot yet predict with precision.

What they do know, however, is that the more species protect an ecosystem, the more stable that ecosystem becomes. As a result, it provides its services more reliably.

Diversity is therefore a kind of life insurance. If one species fails – due to drought or heat, for example – others take over. Thus, by accelerating the extinction of cash, we are increasingly canceling our life insurance policies.

Base of life and economic factor

Whether we are rich or poor, whether we live in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere of the Earth, we all depend on the services rendered by nature. We need water, air, food, herbal medicines, forests and more. Nature also plays an essential role in economic life (see Katja Dombrowski on our D + C / E + Z platform). For example, it allows the fisheries sector alone to generate around $ 350 billion per year – much of which sadly unsustainable – and, in the absence of Covid-19, earns Africa around $ 29 billion per year. year thanks to ecotourism. It is also estimated that 80% of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will become unachievable if species continue to disappear at the current rate.

The main drivers of diversity depletion include not only the overexploitation of natural resources but also changes in land use, mainly due to the relentless expansion of agriculture (see Susanne Neubert on our D + C platform / E + Z). Another factor is human-caused climate change, as many species are fatally stressed by higher temperatures. Conversely, the loss of biodiversity itself fuels climate change.

Forests, peatlands and soils are natural carbon sinks that can effectively help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. They should not be further decimated, drained or eroded. One important reason is that natural carbon sequestration is significantly cheaper and more predictable in its consequences than expensive geoengineering with so far untested technologies. Climate change and biodiversity are therefore closely linked; one cannot be approached without the other. Conserving biodiversity is an important part of climate protection.

Well-managed conservation areas are seen as an important means of safeguarding biodiversity – provided that local communities are closely involved. Without them, nature conservation will fail. Much evidence has been provided over the past decades.

Despite commitments to ambitious international goals, however, only around 16% of the world’s land area and around 8% of the oceans are currently protected – significantly less than the 30% recommended by scientists (see Wanjohi Kabukuru on our D + C / E + Z platform).

Not enough money for developing countries

Too often, however, protection is not effective enough in affected areas. There is a simple but serious reason: 80% of all species are concentrated on about 20% of the Earth’s surface. Most of this 20% are in developing countries. They usually lack the money to manage conservation areas well and to involve the local community in a convincing way. This is particularly true in the era of coronaviruses, with disadvantaged countries in particular struggling to cope with the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

Much of the international funding for nature conservation is spent in more prosperous countries. It is not heading for biodiversity hotspots in the developing world. Only 19% are used for this purpose. As a result, large areas are not protected, even though governments have declared them conservation areas.

These areas have come to be known as “paper parks”: sanctuaries that exist only on paper and do not fulfill their real function. According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), around 90% of the 282 protected areas examined in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are underfunded. To help remedy this deplorable situation, the KfW Development Bank has developed a new financing instrument – the Legacy Landscapes Fund (LLF) (see box) – on behalf of the BMZ.

As stressed by Gerd Müller, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Stefanie Lang, Director of the LLF, increased funding for biodiversity must be accompanied by a commitment by the international community to invest 30% of Earth’s lands and oceans under protection by 2030. In a column in the German daily Handelsblatt, they called for a new “Paris moment” for biodiversity, like the only climate policy experienced in the French capital in 2015. The Kunming Biodiversity Conference in China, which enters a decisive phase in April 2022, would be a good opportunity.

Friederike Bauer works as a freelance journalist on foreign and development policy issues. The KfW Development Bank is owned by the institutions it writes for, but this essay was commissioned by D + C / E + Z.
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