United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Editorial by Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan
Rich and diverse ecosystems must be passed down to future generations


Among a variety of environmental issues, biodiversity loss is one of the most important challenges facing the international community. Throughout its long history, humankind has enjoyed benefits from nature's cycle. Food, clothing and shelter are only available by our use of nature and living things. Humankind has also acquired a wide range of knowledge from nature, and cultivated arts and technologies in the course of maintaining a sustainable way of life within it.

We bear a heavy burden of responsibility to pass down rich and diverse ecosystems to future generations, so that human beings can continue receiving the benefits provided by nature in future years.

This issue becomes easier to understand when we consider our socio-economic activities, for which raw materials such as grains, fruits, timber and water are provided by the benefits from biodiversity. In Japan, for example, there is a super express train network known as the Shinkansen bullet train that connects major cities throughout the country. The design of the shape of its nose cone was based on the beak of the kingfisher bird, in order to reduce air resistance for high-speed performance.

In order to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, it is very important to recognize the interrelationship between biodiversity and our lives, and consider how we should view it. It is in this context that The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, lead by Dr. Pavan Sukhdev, draws attention to highlighting the linkage between biodiversity and the economy, so as to enhance public awareness of biodiversity's importance and give greater significance to promoting its conservation and sustainable use.

Japan is moving ahead in an attempt to assess the economic value of biodiversity and to integrate it with conservation measures. For example, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment conducted an assessment from 2008 to 2009 on the benefits of the nation's coral reef ecosystems, revealing an annual economic value estimated at $27.6 billion from tourism and recreation, $1.2 billion in commercial marine products, and $0.9 billion to 9.6 billion in protection from tidal waves and erosion hazards. These results serve as a basis for the Action Plan for Conservation of Coral Reef Ecosystems in Japan released by the Ministry in April 2010, and are widely used to improve public awareness of the importance of coral reefs.

Meanwhile, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment compiled by the United Nations in 2005 concludes that, among 24 ecosystem services evaluated globally, 15 ecosystem services (equivalent to about 60 per cent of world ecosystem benefits) have been damaged over the past 50 years, and that human behaviour is the underlying cause. The third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3), produced by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), also concludes that the state of biodiversity is continuing to decline on a global scale, and that the world has failed to meet its targets to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. It is now time for us to share the same recognition concerning the benefits derived from biodiversity, halt its further loss, and take concrete actions to recover it.

A number of major issues regarding the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity will be discussed at the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-COP10) in the city of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. One is to establish a new strategic plan including post-2010 targets. Another important theme is Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) related to genetic resources. The Government of Japan also intends to take this opportunity to advocate the promotion of the Satoyama Initiative.

In Japanese, Satoyama refers to woodlands or grasslands (yama) adjacent to villages (sato), and represents one example of the natural environment that the initiative aims to create. Satoyama, being closely associated with local traditions and culture, are places where local communities fully receive the benefits derived from ecosystems through such human activities as agriculture and forestry. The Satoyama Initiative — jointly initiated by the Japanese Government and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in close cooperation with a wide range of partner organizations — is a global effort and approach to create a society in harmony with nature. Through it we want to promote the sustainable use of biological resources suitable for specific climates and natural features in each region, contribute to the improved well-being of humans in general, and achieve the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

All stakeholders — including international organizations, Governments, municipalities, NGOs, businesses and local communities — will cooperate in implementing a major effort to advance the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, while considering the discussions at CBD-COP10 and other accomplishments in this International Year of Biodiversity. Japan is now calling for a 'United Nations Decade on Biodiversity', to be considered at the United Nations General Assembly this year, and would like to ask you all for approval and cooperation. Keeping COP10's slogan — 'Life in harmony, into the future'— as a key phrase, Japan will exert its utmost efforts, hoping to pass down the benefits of biodiversity to future generations.

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