how-biodiversity-relates-to-sustainability

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Years ago, scientific conferences and journals were the only reliable sources of’ biodiversity’ and ‘sustainability’ information. That didn’t matter much because few people cared to know. Nowadays, understanding how biodiversity relates to sustainability is critical for everyone to understand because our livelihoods are at stake.

As globalization and climate change have fast altered the playing field, they have realized that these two are inextricably linked. Sustainability has become a buzzword, and biodiversity reaching mainstream audiences in almost all sectors and policies.  

This article seeks to expound the link between sustainability and biodiversity and aspires to challenge the search of how these topics link to human’s overall well being and daily survival needs. 

Want to learn more? Check out our article on Was Nylon A Gift Or A Curse for more!

The Origin of the terms “Biodiversity” and “Sustainability”

During the early 2000s, one would not easily find ‘biodiversity’ and ‘sustainability’ in the English dictionary. Many would fret the Word File for underlining those words with red lines, leaving them an eye-soring draft of their essays or term paper.

Nowadays, the terms have become more acceptable and engaging in many discourses and platforms.   

The word ‘biodiversity’ is an abbreviation of two words – “biological” and “diversity.” It was conceived in the 1980s by Thomas Lovejoy, who introduced the term ‘biological diversity’ to the scientific community. It was later coined as “biodiversity” by W. G. Rosen in 1985.

The word gained more popularity when the 1st United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) convened in 1992. Parties to the convention agreed to address the challenges to their diverse ecosystems, species of flora and fauna, and the genetic resources among species. 

The UNCBD has a lengthy definition for “biological diversity” which is “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, among other things, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” 

It implies variability among and within species, and between ecosystems.

While the term “biodiversity” came from the scientific community, the term “sustainability” ironically came from the terms used in the logging concessions. 

Derived from the German word Nachhaltigkeitand, meaning “sustained yield,” sustainability made its debut in a forestry handbook in 1713. It means harvesting forest resources at a rate slower than its natural growth.

Since then, ‘sustainability’ has become a commonly used term to refer to a country or institution’s ability to provide for its present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

It is used interchangeably with the term sustainable development and coined in the 1987 Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development by the United Nations entitled “Our Common Future.” 

Sustainability has three main pillars: the social sphere, the environmental sphere, and the economic sphere. They are also commonly referred to as the 3Ps: People, Planet, and Profit. 

visual-sustainability-definition
Visual Demonstration: People, Planet, and Profit
Photo Credit: Patpitchaya

Below discusses how biodiversity becomes inextricably linked to sustainability and its three main pillars. 

Biodiversity: An Indicator of Sustainability 

In a 2011 study conducted by the National Research Council in the U.S., biodiversity topped 5th among the 27 commonly used international indicators by ten developed countries to measure sustainability.

Greenhouse gas emission (GHG) topped number 1, followed by educational attainment as number 2, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as number 3, and disposal and collection of waste as number 4. 

These indicators were a vast improvement over those from the Human Development Index (HDI) of the 1990s. That only focus on GDP as a measure of progress

Recognizing biodiversity as an essential indicator of sustainable progress, the United Nations (UN) incorporated it in its 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) under Goal 15, Life on Land.  

The UN recognizes the inevitable contribution of biodiversity to humans’ well-being and thus calls every nation to “sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, [and] halt biodiversity loss.” 

Also, biodiversity made it a reliable indicator of sustainability for three reasons:

  1. Regulating services (example climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control)
  2. Provisioning services (i.e., the products obtained from ecosystems such as food, fresh water, wood, fiber, genetic resources, and medicines)
  3. Educational services (i.e., non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation, and aesthetic values)

These are also known as ecosystem services.

Biodiversity Strengthens Ecosystem Resilience

biodiversity-in-the-ecosystem
Biodiversity in our oceans’ ecosystems
Photo Credit: vlad61

Whether or not you believe that the north and south poles are melting, or that the polar bears are drowning, the reality is that our ecosystem and our economy is experiencing the dire effects of climate change – globally.

And biodiversity seems to act as a buffer that curtails the effects of climate change.

During the supertyphoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines, anecdotal stories and documentaries showed that those near an intact mangrove forest did not experience the storm surge compared to those living in coastal areas with small mangrove cover. 

Notice too that in highly diverse forest ecosystems, various tree species exhibit differing canopy structures, ages, and wood densities. These characteristics help reduce the strong winds’ impact and enable them to recover faster when hit by typhoons or cyclones.

In contrast, monoculture plantations with exotic species, in particular, could not exhibit the same adaptive capacity.

A study of Turton in 2019 in Australia showed that a contiguous and intact ecosystem, from ridge-to-reef (starting from the coral reefs to seagrass communities, mangrove forests, to lowland, and upland rain forests) had shown early stages of recovery after a powerful typhoon. 

Compare this to less diverse and less intact ecosystems such as agriculture and small forest remnants

In agriculture, diversifying agricultural species with forestry species (better known as agroforestry) mimics nature’s ecological function. It has proven to increase yield, improve soil structure and water absorption, reduce pest attacks, and improve overall ecosystem resilience.

Pestilences and extreme weather conditions are one of the established effects of climate change, often scourge forest and agriculture areas with lower diversity. 

The more food web there is, the more stable an ecosystem is.

Biodiversity Sustains Food Supply

biodiversity-in-food
Biodiversity in tomatoes
Photo Credit: mirceax

The food on your table is a product of biodiversity. Here are examples of biodiversity amongst our food sources and how wildlife affects the phenomenon.

Grains

  • Field peas
  • Safflower
  • Lentils
  • Lupins
  • Sorghum
  • Soybeans other oilseed grain
  • Canola
  • Sunflower
  • Faba

Fruit-bearing trees

  • Blueberries
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Sweet cherries

Bees alone, who mainly do that, have around 20,000 different species according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Studies also proved that healthy forest cover promotes fish diversity in tropical communities. Intact forests in the uplands also mean untouched coral reefs downstream, which increase fish populations. There are already a handful of initiatives on this theme.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was convened to issue restrictions and a list of plants and animals that are allowed or not allowed to be harvested, collected or traded to ensure the protection of these fast dwindling plant and animal species. 

Biodiversity Supports the Economy

Sectors that benefit from biodiversity include tourism, energy, agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries where they get their raw materials.

The shoes you buy, from example, come from a species of a rubber tree known as Hevea brasiliensis. The clothes you wear are from fibers of different species of cotton grown in the agricultural ecosystem. 

As a leading contributor to global GDP, tourism links closely to biodiversity. 

Biodiversity caters to the recreational and supply services that the tourism sector needs. Nowadays, tourists do not only visit the area for their scenic spots but to experience the diverse culture, discover new plants, animals, or ecosystems they had never seen before!

Even the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry depends on biodiversity to sustain its research and innovations for new medicines.

Because of its secure link to the economy, resource economists began introducing environmental valuation or environmental accounting. 

It is a method of surveying the biodiversity resource in an area and monetizing its value in its provisioning, regulating, and cultural services to measure the impact of the proposed development on the affected biodiversity resource. 

Thanks to environmental accounting. It has made biodiversity relevant in the discussions of economic development, which now made industries more cautious in exploiting these natural resources.  

Biodiversity Promotes Social Culture

Culture is commonly defined as a set of practices or ways of doing things.

Nature and culture meet at the borders of values, beliefs, and norms to practices, livelihoods, knowledge, and languages. The culture of a country somehow tells a lot about its unique biodiversity composition and biogeographic origin. 

“Respect for biological diversity implies respect for societal and cultural diversity”

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Source

For example, the ecosystems surrounding a fishing village, desert tribe, and mountain clan affect the demographics, culture, and genetic diversity tremendously.

In recognition of this secure link, UNCBD provides policy on access and benefit-sharing of biodiversity resources. It means the local community (or host country) of a biodiversity resource used for research or innovation can access its benefits (be it in intrinsic or in the outward form).

How can we ensure sustainability through biodiversity? 

If biodiversity equates to ‘diverse life,’ sustainability equates to ‘human life’s’ survival. The earth, with a 7.8 billion population, can only sustain so much of its resource capacity. Forest ecosystem, which contains 80% of the biodiversity resources worldwide, is in fierce competition for space with urban and agricultural ecosystems. 

Sadly, almost half of the earth’s biodiversity has or will become extinct due to overexploitation, habitat change, and pollution; the top three direct threats to biodiversity based on the UNCBD.

how-biodiversity-relates-to-sustainability
Removal of native trees for planting rubber trees
Photo Credit: Hawk-Williamson

Here are some simple ways that an individual can do to address these direct threats. 

Promoting awareness 

Overexploitation is a tragedy of ignorance. Familiarize yourself with species that are threatened, endangered, or critically endangered. Visit www.cites.org to learn which species in your area are allowed to be traded, collected, or harvested or not. 

Share this list to as many connections you have as possible. And do not forget to put the number of the agency concerned in your area that deals with illegal wildlife trafficking. 

Attend an Adopt-An-Ecosystem activity

In place of the high tree planting activity (which is usually a one-day activity and after that, you do not know what happened to the trees you planted). Why not organize an Adopt – a- Ecosystem instead with your friends or cliques? It can be an “Adopt a Forest,” “Adopt a River,” or “Adopt an Ocean,” etc. 

You can decide on the ecosystem you want to take care of for a definite period. Planting trees is good, but it takes commitment and time to restore a forest. Draft a practical and SMART plan for your Adopt-an-Ecosystem initiative and source networks that can fund it. 

Volunteer for waste and pollution management drives 

Waste and pollution are daunting problems to address, considering that their significant sources come from big manufacturing industries. But as an individual, you can promote waste or pollution management drives in your community. 

You can partner with people’s organizations, associations, or youth groups in your town. To create attention and garner more support, you may want to take a photo of a before and after shot of your activity and post it on your social media.

How Biodiversity Relates to Sustainability 

The link between sustainability and biodiversity has become easier to establish today than ever. We have seen and experienced the obvious interdependence and symbiotic relationship of humans to its environment.

Human survival instincts, culture, and livelihood connect to nature and the environment on a deeper level. 

In this line, sustainability, as it links to biodiversity, will only penetrate the public’s appreciation if we successfully relate it to their day-to-day lives. Only when people, private companies, and institutions see the profound impact of biodiversity on their survival or sustainability of their operations, will they ever take actions to preserve it.

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