Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

Transformations required in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and water management to halt biodiversity loss

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Although international efforts to halt biodiversity loss are producing results in some areas, they have not yet been able to improve the current state of biodiversity worldwide. Agriculture, forestry, fishing and water management are the main causes of biodiversity loss, but they also could play a key role in the solution. In an underlying study for the fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook, which will be presented at the UN Biodiversity summit in South Korea, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency shows how these sectors could act more biodiversity-friendly and make better use of the opportunities offered by nature.

According to the PBL analyses, without improved policies biodiversity worldwide will decrease by 10% in the next 40 years. This is the result of a 50% to 70% increase in the demand for food, timber, energy and water for a growing and increasingly wealthy world population. This loss is equal to the historical rate, despite efforts made in recent years to protect biodiversity. Without these efforts, the decline would have been even greater. In addition to the sectors of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and water, the energy and transport sectors are also responsible for the projected loss of biodiversity (particularly due to their contribution to climate change). This is illustrated in the figure below, in which biodiversity loss (expressed as Mean Species Abundance) is attributed to the various sectors. The decline can be slowed down only by combining drastic changes in production modes in these sectors with long-term policy commitments.

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In addition to the sectors of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and water, the energy and transport sectors are also responsible for the projected loss of biodiversity (particularly due to their contribution to climate change).

Potential biodiversity-friendly options include:

  • Make the cultivation and harvesting of, for example, wood, soya, fish and palm oil more sustainable;
  • Increase agricultural productivity in developing regions to prevent agricultural land expansions;
  • ‘Ecologisation’ of agriculture in high production areas to reduce the pressure on nature;
  • Restore degraded areas;
  • Apply nature-based solutions in water-management;
  • Increase the efficient use of natural resources in production chains;
  • Promote technical innovations that enable replacing the use of hardwood by softwood;
  • Eat less meat;
  • Decrease food waste in production and consumption.

These options will not come about by themselves. In addition to primary producers (farmers, foresters, fishermen), consumers and businesses throughout the supply chain also can and should contribute to prevent the further biodiversity loss attributed to the primary production process. This, for example, requires biodiversity to be better incorporated into sustainability initiatives within production chains. At present, this needs significant improvement. For consumers, the importance of biodiversity for a healthy diet is not clear enough. Consumers are also insufficiently aware of the consequences of eating meat and dairy products for biodiversity. Supermarkets, restaurants, caterers and TV cooking programmes can play an important role in showing how production and consumption are interconnected. Governments could significantly contribute by explaining the importance of natural capital for economic sectors, supporting front runners, promoting learning and sharing of experiences and ensure that laws and regulations are enforced.

The launch of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 marked the start of the 2014 international UN Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in South Korea. During this conference, countries will assess the progress made, so far, in the international 10-year plan for Biodiversity (Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020). This plan, which includes 20 targets (the Aichi Biodiversity targets), was agreed upon by almost all countries, in 2010, in Nagoya, Japan. The Outlook shows that, although considerable progress has been made for a number of targets, stronger and additional efforts are urgently needed. The Global Biodiversity Outlook is underpinned by two scientific studies. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency is the lead author of one of these, titled ‘How sectors can contribute to sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity’.

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