According to Mongabay, the United Nations through its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is helping the developing world reduce carbon emissions by financing projects like hydroelectric dams. A new one under construction in Panama is pending carbon credit certification from CDM. Unfortunately, the dams can wipe out indigenous, fragile wildlife, arguably put something worse into the sky — and in the case of the Panama dam could displace an indigenous tribe. Excerpt:

The American firm (AES Corporation of Virginia) has requested carbon credit certification under the CDM for the project, claiming that the dam will help against global warming. However, recent research suggests that tropical dams release methane, a gas which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Beyond potential emissions from flooding, environmentalists say the dam threatens La Amistad Reserve, Central America’s largest intact rainforest. Biologists have counted more than 215 mammal species, 600 birds, 115 fish, 250 reptiles and amphibians to date in the reserve, including 180 plant species and 40 bird species found no-where else in the world. La Amistad’s biological stars include the quetzal, harpy eagle, howler monkey, jaguarondi, tiger-cat, tapir, and jaguar. In January scientists from the Natural History Museum of London announced three new species of salamander from the Costa Rican side of the park, proving that there was still much left undiscovered in La Amistad Reserve.


Lots of meaty stories leading up to Thursday’s World Environment Day sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme:

ENS news service – Heads of state and 87 ministers from around the world have reinforced their commitment to “substantially reduce” the global loss of biodiversity within two years. The European Commission is committed to stopping the loss of biodiversity in Europe by 2010. Gathered at the ministerial segment of the World Biodiversity Summit in Bonn convened by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD, participants heard expressions of alarm at the unprecedented loss of species to human encroachment and also heard pledges to reverse this decline. Plant and animal species are becoming extinct at a rate 100 times the natural rate of extinction due to human activities that include pollution, habitat loss, increased consumption and climate change.

The Independent — Mass extinctions of plants and animals could have a severe impact on the living standards of the poorest people on the planet and cost up to £40bn a year, the first major report into the economic impact of biodiversity loss has found. Scientists say biodiversity is facing its greatest threat in millions of years, with three species dying out every hour. Now, the economic cost of such destruction has been assessed.

redOrbit – About 40 percent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes, according to the United Nations Environment Program. People in poorer regions, especially those in areas of low agricultural productivity, rely on genetic diversity of the environment. “However, human activities the world over are causing the progressive loss of species of plants and animals at a rate far higher than the natural background rate of extinction,” said the UNEP.

When a world leader assesses what’s happening to biodiversity, announces a huge commitment to preventing further loss, and then says, “Nothing less that the basis of our own survival, our very existence, is at stake” — well, it’s a good day for our planet.  Story pasted below and linked here.

Biodiversity: German pledges 500 million euros at UN talks


BONN, Germany (AFP) — Germany on Wednesday pledged half a billion euros (785 million dollars) to help defend threatened forests and called on others to join its effort as a UN conference on biodiversity engaged top gear.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country wanted to set down a “very clear marker” on attaining the UN’s Millennium goal of braking biodiversity loss by 2010.

“The Federal government, between 2009 and 2012, will earmark an additional amount of 500 million euros,” Merkel told the meeting.

“We want to use this money in those areas where forests and other ecosystems are under threat and to find quick solutions for conserving them.”

From 2013, Germany will stump up half a billion dollars, annually, she promised, but added, “obviously, Germany cannot shoulder this enormous global burden alone.”

The three-day “high-level” section of the conference is gathering 87 ministers, with the goal of crafting a new global deal on preserving Earth’s wildlife.

“Noting less that the basis of our own survival, our very existence, is at stake,” Merkel told the 6,000 representatives from 191 countries attending the meeting, launched 11 days earlier.

Participants at the conference are hoping to establish a roadmap towards negotiating, by 2010, an “Access and Benefit Sharing” regulatory framework governing access to genetic resources and sharing the benefits from their use.

Amid sharp debate on the issue, Merkel called for “striking fair balance between rich and poor countries” in the economic exploitation of biodiversity.

The UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) was established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso underlined the links between species loss and climate change, and said the world must see protecting biodiversity as an economic imperative.

“Biodiversity underpins our economies … and we cannot afford to deplete our public capital in this way,” he said.

Barroso singled out deforestation as one of the main causes of species loss, and said the European Union was reviewing measures to combat illegal logging, and trade in illegally harvested forest products.

But environment groups have criticised the EU for sitting on a draft law that would ban the importation of such products into Europe.

“The law is finished and ready to go, but because of commercial and business lobbying, the Commission has not gone forward,” said Saskia Richartz, policy director for biodiversity at Greenpeace.

Scientists say that species are becoming extinct at a dizzying rate — between 100 and 1,000 times the natural pace of extinction.

One in four mammals, one bird in eight, one third of all amphibians and 70 percent of plants are under threat.

Development economist Pavan Sukhdev has handed the conference a preliminary report in which the lost of the benefits of biodiversity are put at 3.1 trillion dollars a year, or six percent of the planet’s gross national product (GNP).

Group of Eight environment ministers met in Kobe, Japan, earlier this week, issuing a joint statement acknowledging the fundamental importance of biodiversity and spelling out their support for the Millennium Development Goal of reaching a “significant reduction” in species loss by the end of this decade.

Greenpeace’s Martin Kaiser praised Merkel for sending “a very strong and important signal” for reaching a strong agreement in Bonn.

He called on other industrialised countries to pitch in, and estimated around 30 billion euros (47.1 billion dollars) a year were needed to finance the protection of ancient forests.

It’s been reported that the urgency of biodiversity takes a back seat to the urgency of climate change, with much of the credit going to the one-two punch of a science story telling machine called IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and a powerful narrator, Al Gore.  The biodiversity camp is following suit now with plans for its own fact-based story vehicle (and acronym), IMoSEB, or the International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise on Biodiversity. Its steering committee just wrapped up a meeting in Montpellier, France, two days ago, and a summary of the meeting just popped on the Internet.  For those who care about amphibians, or any threatened species, this is necessary reading.  Below, I’ll first paste  the official “final outcome” section. Later, I’ll paste some meeting notes that show some of the interesting questions raised earlier in the meeting. The point is, the scientists for whom animals and plants are Job One are trying hard to grab our attention and that of our governments, and challenge all of us to increase our mindshare for biodiversity. Memo to IMoSEB: please hurry.

  • “Final Outcome: In its Statement, the IMoSEB International Steering Committee recommends … establishment of a means, and enhancement of existing institutions, to provide an objective source of information about biodiversity change and its impacts on ecosystem services and human well-being, via a range of activities, including:
    • building on and promoting periodic global and sub-global assessments of the state of, and trends in, biodiversity and ecosystem services, and their effects on human well-being at multiple spatial scales;

    • undertaking or promoting special studies on emerging issues of importance to biodiversity, particularly those which are transnational and/or cross-cultural in nature;

    • contributing to rapid and authoritative scientific information on biodiversity-related emergencies at short time scales; and

    • promoting the development of the capacity to generate and use the information, methodology and techniques required to accomplish the above objectives.”

OK, this isn’t in Al Gore’s “real people” language yet, but it’s a start! I thought the meeting notes describing the debates earlier in the meeting were illuminating:

  • “On improved communication, a participant from the media questioned the role that an IMoSEB might play in ensuring that biodiversity enters the “core” of the news agenda, as climate change has.”

  • “A broad consensus emerged that the links between biodiversity and human well-being should be a key focus, with several participants cautioning against a purely conservation-based ideology.”

  • “He (not sure who “he” is) argued that if the mechanism is to successfully place biodiversity on the global agenda, it should report to the UN General Assembly …  Several participants suggested alternative institutional homes, including: the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and the UN Development Programme. One participant argued that administration of an IMoSEB should be devolved to multiple UN bodies because many of them are involved in the different aspects of biodiversity.”

  • “One participant proposed adding a reference to the need to promote the linkages between biodiversity, climate change and environmental pollution in order to signal to other conventions the biodiversity community’s willingness to collaborate.”

  • “The debate focused on recommending the establishment of a means to provide an objective source of information about biodiversity change and its impact on ecosystem services and human well-being … “

The Australian today has a really good story summarizing UNEP’s GEO. I’ve cut and pasted some biodiversity-focused excerpts from the story below:

  • More than 30 per cent of the world’s amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are now threatened with extinction. More than 75 per cent of fish stocks are fully or overly exploited. Six in 10 of the world’s leading rivers have been either dammed or diverted. One in 10 of these rivers no longer reaches the sea for part of the year. More than two million people die prematurely every year from indoor and outdoor pollution. Less than 1 per cent of the world’s marine ecosystems are protected.
  • Failing to address persistent atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity problems, UNEP says, “may threaten humanity’s survival”. The report’s authors say there is no significant area dealt with in the report where the foreseeable trends are favourable.
  • The report elaborates on the theory that the available evidence points to a sixth “major extinction event” now under way. Unlike the previous five extinction events, which were the result of natural disasters and planetary change, the present loss of biodiversity can mostly be sheeted home to human activity.
  • “Our common future,” the report says, “depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future.”

Chilling news in today’s Global Environment Outlook announcement by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).  The sweeping report includes comment on the state of biodiversity. Unfortunately, amphibians once again are documented to be worst off. Excerpt from the UNEP Web site:

“Current biodiversity changes are the fastest in human history. Species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. The Congo Basin’s bushmeat trade is thought to be six times the sustainable rate. Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened.”