Why we need biodiversity for life on our planet

By Helen BeringenOctober 14th, 2020

In his latest documentary, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, the famed naturalist maps how steeply the planet’s biodiversity has diminished over his lifetime. Its release coincides with a United Nations Summit on Biodiversity which has called for urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development. 

Rainforests in Australia support a rich array of species.

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, has been working in the background to support the science underpinning the UN Summit, including research that estimates that around one million species face extinction worldwide within the next few decades. 

Dr Simon Ferrier and his colleagues in CSIRO Land and Water have contributed significantly to this effort through their development and application of new techniques for global biodiversity modelling. 

Simon, who is also an Honorary Fellow at the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)has worked for several years on international initiatives promoting and guiding efforts in biodiversity modelling and assessment globally. This has included recently co-chairing the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Methodological Assessment of Scenarios and Models. 

Here Simon reflects on the significance of the recent UN Summit, and the important role CSIRO has been playing in informing global activities aimed at tackling the crisis of ongoing biodiversity loss.

Green beetle on white flower

Scarab beetle on Hakea flower (Image by Jean and Fred via Flickr)

Dr Simon Ferrier on curbing biodiversity loss

The world’s resolve to address the crisis of ongoing biodiversity loss, and resulting impacts on human wellbeing, took a very significant step forwards on September 30, when nearly 150 countries addressed the first-ever UN Summit on Biodiversity. 

Convened by the UN General Assembly, the summit called for “urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development”, aiming to build momentum towards the post-2020 global diversity framework soon to be adopted by member countries of the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

What set this apart from other intergovernmental forums in which biodiversity issues have been considered is that this meeting involved world leaders themselves – with 72 Heads of State including the likes of Xi Jinping , Emmanuel Macron, and Justin Trudeau making speeches largely acknowledging critical linkages between biodiversity and human wellbeing. 

From Sustainable Development Goals and nature-based solutions, to reducing the risk of emergence of COVID-like zoonotic diseases, the speeches promoted the urgent need for collective global action to address biodiversity decline.  

If you’re having trouble imagining world leaders actually talking in detail about this topicas I was before watching parts of the live webcastit’s worth a quick look at some of the 10 hours’ of recording of the summit, which is available in three parts: Part 1Part2, and Part 3. The first half of Part 1 is especially worth dipping into, including the opening address by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. It also includes speeches by world leaders, interspersed with an array of other inspiring speakers. There’s even a nine-page summary of the event. 

In conjunction with the summit was a Leaders’ Pledge for Nature -  united to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 for sustainable development” which has now been signed by Heads of State of 76 countries from all regions of the world. It is definitely worth reading the full four pages of this pledge to get a sense of the significance of its signing by so many leaders.       

Science, and particularly engagement by scientists at the global science-policy interface, has contributed hugely to laying the foundation for what has just occurred.  

The Great Barrier Reef is internationally recognised for its outstanding biodiversity.

Amongst the many scientific organisations involved worldwide, CSIRO can be proud of its own considerable contributions in this space.  

Of particular note are the contributions made by applying our Land and Water team’s global biodiversity modelling and assessment capability, called BILBI (Biogeographic modelling Infrastructure for Large-scale Biodiversity Indicators) 

The UN Summit on Biodiversity, and the associated Leaders’ Pledge, were largely motivated by the widely-publicised findings of the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, released in May last year, which found around one million species now face extinction, many within decades.  

CSIRO’s BILBI system provided the vital separate line of evidence supporting this findingwhich was noted in the Summary for Policymakersconcluding that “more than 500,000 species have insufficient habitat for long-term survival [and are therefore] committed to extinction … unless their habitats are restored”.  

Several key findings of the IPBES Global Assessment also drew heavily on results of two major international collaborations in which CSIRO used BILBI to help evaluate the consequences of alternative global-change and policy scenarios for biodiversity and ecosystem services globally. 

BILBI covers the entire land surface of the planet with a spatial resolution and biological scope unmatched by any other institution anywhere in the world. The system integrates our team’s leading expertise in macroecological modelling with cutting-edge advances in remote sensing, biodiversity informatics and high-performance computing.  

CSIRO aims to continue to help in redressing the significant challenges to biodiversity through its global biodiversity modelling and assessment research. By contributing our science and insights, we hope to be able to assist decision makers in identifying the best pathways for conserving precious biodiversity, while at the same time assisting the world to navigate the unquestionable challenges of economic prosperity and social wellbeing. 

Pink flowers

Emu bush (Eremophila) from Western Australia (image Murray Foubister via Flickr)

2 comments

  1. I wasn’t aware of this, and was quite heartened to read this article, thank you….until I clicked through the links and observed that Australia wasn’t one of the 76 nations that signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature. Is this correct? Or am I reading something wrong?

    1. Hi Claire, you’re correct – it’s our understanding that Australia has not signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.
      Kind regards, Kate Cranney.

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