Bookmark and ShareRupert Crilly is a researcher in Environmental Economics at nef

No one really expects governments to be consistent. I’m not talking about election times – we’ve all been watching the Conservatives doing their spring clean of the Labour closets – but about the mixed messages from different government departments, delegates, ministers and so on. Indeed, the chasm between what they say and what they do rarely fails to swallow up a few gullible casualties. But when it comes to biodiversity and our environment, the temptation to cash in on our natural resources is usually so great that we all pretty much expect it- while being told something completely different. Is it time, when we’re losing species this fast, to make a change? Our hard-learned lesson is, preserving our environment is preserving our economy. Until this is fully realised, don’t look for the promises, look for the action- if you can find it…

European Fish Week

This week is marked by European Fish Week, a rallying call to help the vast, silent, emptying oceans (sign the petition here). If you think that sounds dramatic, consider this figure – 88% of EU fish stocks are overfished. Eighty-eight per cent! And how did it get this bad? Well, a big problem is that decision makers (like the European Fisheries Ministers) don’t really listen to the scientists they hire. Fishing quotas are consistently set far above the limits recommended by scientists that would, if adhered to, prevent the stocks from further depletion. In the past, quotas for blue-tuna have been set 47% over scientific recommendations. If you’re interested in the health of our seas I’d also strongly recommend this video by respected scientist Jeremy Jackson, and this one by Silvia Earle, former chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Clearly, when it comes to the oceans, we all know who the losing side is. Sometimes, though, the economic bulldozers are hushed by the echo of the penny dropping: we are on the same side. It’s little surprise, then, that as the fishing industry flags, things start to move: a federal investigation in Canada will begin next week to study the decline of sockeye salmon stocks, when only about one million of an expected 10.6-million returned to the Fraser River. There even promises to be a contentious look at the impacts of salmon farming on these stocks.


Whaling’s another good example of the tensions that exist between commercial interests and the conservation of the natural environment. The illegal whaling (let’s not kid ourselves) by Japan is being legally challenged by Australia (we’ll see what that does). Also, and maybe I’m being overly-optimistic here, the trial of the ‘Toyko Two’ Greenpeace activists could work to expose the whale meat trade (reaching as far away as Californian restaurants!)- perhaps a little hope for the ocean titans. Then again, there’s the news that President Obama may be looking to reverse the ban on whaling. Hmm. And what is the EU- we know their record on fishing- doing about all of this? Your guess is as good as mine.

(Image source: © Greenpeace)

IPCC for Biodiversity – if only they had Police powers

Some interesting other developments are the proposals by France and Japan to establish an IPPC-like organisation for nature. This is long overdue, if we consider climate change as at least a partial symptom arising from environmental degradation and the current biodiversity crisis. Indeed, Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of the TEEB report, has argued that stopping biodiversity loss would help us deal with climate change. The UN also says that the case for protecting species is stronger than climate change. Well, it’s true, but it’s also unfortunate they have to be compared, like alternatives. I’d wager the case for protecting species is also more powerful than subsidising carbon-intensive energy mega-companies, so why aren’t they being compared? As the Guardian quoted Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN’s species survival commission, when asked about the need for $60m to build a database of 160,000 species as indicators of Nature’s health:

Just think of the other uses $60m are put to by the world, and the amount of money spent on wars or banks, or advertising. We can put our hands on our hearts and say this would be better for the good of humanity. First of all it’s an indicator of the health of the planet. Secondly in many parts of the world people depend on biodiversity for food or clean water or living wages. Thirdly I’d say because of their intrinsic value: there’s something inspirational about ecosystems and species being in good shape, and the diversity of it.

The other issue is that, while we must welcome an IPCC for biodiversity, we should also recognise that IPCC’s and their copies don’t magically fix problems. The Copenhagen Accord is non-binding, and that’s not any fault of the IPCC. In brief, the IPCC is not the weak link in the chain. Action is needed from governments themselves – and not the hide-and-seek kind. As for Japan and France, well, one is hunting slow-breeding whales, the other was recently fined record sums for catching undersized fish, and both are complicit in driving the extinction of critically endangered bluefin tuna.

Cause for Optimisim

Despite it all, I’ll try to finish on an optimistic note. A new course, you know, could always be just around the corner, or maybe it’s the next corner…News from the SBSTTA in Nairobi, part of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, gives hope for perhaps 20 or so ‘strong but realistic’ initiatives– and a potential bailout for nature. Good stuff. But wait! The IUCN notes, by mid-May world leaders had still failed to deliver commitments made in 2002 to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, and have instead overseen alarming biodiversity declines.

Given the trickles of hopeful words, development of new tools, grasps for more knowledge, the real question is, what are we not doing? And did you hear this week, snakes are disappearing at alarming rates across the globe, for unknown reasons? The authors of that particular report, apparently, suspect habitat loss.