Biodiversity should not be expected to earn its living in the market

May 2012
1 page

Helena Paul

ECO 41(1)

CBD Alliance

EcoNexus is part of the CBD Alliance at WGRI4, 7-11 May 2012, Montreal

On May 2nd 2012 a paper appeared in Nature entitled: A global synthesis reveals biodiversity
loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. It analyses existing data to show that biodiversity loss and extinctions are altering processes fundamental to ecosystem functioning and resilience, with major implications for us all. This is not a new message, but one that has constantly been ignored.

On May 2nd 2012 a paper appeared in Nature entitled: A global synthesis reveals biodiversity
loss as a major driver of ecosystem change.1 It analyses existing data to show that biodiversity loss and extinctions are altering processes fundamental to ecosystem functioning and resilience, with major implications for us all. This is not a new message, but one that has constantly been ignored.
Yet the paper clearly states the authors’ conclusion that biodiversity loss is as serious as climate change. The paper’s abstract notes:
“Higher levels of extinction (41–60%) had effects rivalling those of ozone, acidification, elevated CO2 and nutrient pollution ... .Despite the need for more studies on interactive effects of diversity loss and environmental changes, our analyses clearly show that the ecosystem consequences of local species loss are as quantitatively significant as the direct effects of several global change stressors that have mobilized major international concern and remediation efforts.”
Once again, this shows that biodiversity, including agricultural biodiversity and related knowledge and practices, as fostered over millennia by Indigenous Peoples, small scale food providers and local communities are fundamental to humanity’s future presence on the planet. In spite of this, we appear to be expecting biodiversity and ecosystems to earn their right to survival by attracting the market. If this is the assumption, we should be challenging the (human constructed) market model, not asking biodiversity to hand its CV to the market valuation experts.
At the same time those developing and promoting new technologies try to reassure us, saying we should not worry about species loss because it will be possible to build new organisms from scratch and make them more efficient than current versions. They say this even though our understanding of ecosystem functions and interactions is still in its infancy.
It is increasingly evident that carbon offsets are a failure, both as concept and reality. Carbon is claimed to be a uniform exchangeable commodity, whether emitted by a smokestack or sequestrated in a mature forest. This argument is partial and unsound, adopted more for the convenience of carbon calculators than the true significance of planetary systems versus human economic systems. Biodiversity is clearly not exchangeable, because, as endemism alone demonstrates, it is unique to each location. This means that the proposal to put a market value on biodiversity is so flawed that it should be unacceptable to the CBD.

  • 1. A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change, David U. Hooper et al. Nature (2012): doi:10.1038/nature11118, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11118.html