The conservation and protection of biodiversity are increasingly being compromised by human activities. The global economy depends on nature and the ecosystem services it provides, so recognizing the importance of Nature-Based Solutions should be a central theme at COP28.
By Francesca Roseo
Translated by Daniele Savietto
What is biodiversity?
Let’s start with definitions: according to Treccani, biodiversity is “the set of differentiation, variation, and complexity of life on Earth.” The term biodiversity, or biological diversity, is used to describe the immense variety and variability of living organisms – such as bacteria, plants, animals, and people – and their interactions in the ecosystems where they live. It is estimated that there are 8.7 million species of plants and animals on Earth, of which only 1.2 million have been identified and described. Understanding the central role of human activities in disrupting the delicate balance of biodiversity and its decline is crucial if we truly want to combat climate change.
Why does this affect us?
Organisms interacting within their environment have a strong influence on the stability and functionality of ecosystems, whose protection is vital for our survival. Human activities have transformed and degraded natural environments worldwide, to the point of altering ecosystems, making them unviable due to drought or extreme climatic events. As a result, many people have been forced to abandon the places where they lived. In Pakistan, floods are becoming more intense and frequent: just between August and September 2022, they caused the death of over 1,700 people and left 33 million homeless; many were forced to migrate in search of safer lands. This year, residents of Tuvalu, a small archipelago that will become uninhabitable in the next eighty years, were offered the opportunity to work and live in Australia. A bittersweet proposal, given that Australia is one of the countries with the highest per capita emissions rate and, therefore, directly responsible for the climate changes causing the sea level rise that will make Tuvalu disappear from the maps.
Ecosystem Services We sometimes forget, but people around the world depend on the diverse benefits provided by nature, which, from a totally utilitarian perspective, have been termed “ecosystem services.” These free services provided by nature have been divided into four major categories: Life support: services necessary for the production of all other services, such as soil formation, nutrient cycling, and primary production. Provisioning: products obtained from ecosystems, like drinking water and food. Regulation: benefits obtained from the process of regulating ecosystems, like temperature and tide regulation, water purification, carbon sequestration, and pollination. Cultural: include all non-material (psychological and spiritual) benefits that can be experienced in contact with nature.
What are the main threats to biodiversity and ecosystems?
Human impact, both direct and indirect, is the main culprit for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems. Human activities have altered 70% of the land surface, reducing the habitat of many species and leading over a million animals and plants to the brink of extinction. The main threats to biodiversity are primarily five, to which anthropogenic hybridization and the spread of diseases are added. They are: Land use: the expansion of human population and activities is causing the fragmentation and destruction of natural habitats. Natural areas have been replaced by cultivated fields, roads, and infrastructure, affecting the regulatory role of ecosystems.
Climate change: the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases, related to unsustainable use of fossil fuels and the degradation of natural environments, has altered the climate globally. Just in the last year, we have witnessed an increase in extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, hurricanes, fires, and snowstorms, endangering the lives and rights of people worldwide. Pollution: perhaps the least visible (but also the most widespread) form of threat and degradation to biodiversity is pollution due to the use of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, industrial waste, chemicals, and emissions from cars and industrial facilities.
To these forms of pollution, we must add light, noise, air, and microplastic pollution, all posing a serious threat to the health of ecosystems (marine and terrestrial) and people. Overexploitation of populations and species: the destructive approach to the environment through the exploitation of natural resources and animals (such as hunting, agriculture, and livestock) has caused the reduction and disappearance of species and habitats globally. Introduction of alien species: the presence of allochthonous species has also increased due to globalization and can occur through intentional, accidental, or secondary introduction, posing a serious threat to naturally present species, in some cases causing their extinction.
Nature-Based Solutions (NbS): What They Are and Why They Are Discussed at COP28
Nature-Based Solutions (NbS) are approaches and strategies that put nature at the center of the fight against climate change, serving as a crucial tool to combat biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), present at COP28 in the “Unite for Nature” Pavilion, defines NbS as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that effectively and adaptively address societal challenges, simultaneously providing benefits for human well-being and biodiversity.”
These solutions involve enhancing, restoring, and valuing ecosystems to generate a series of benefits and ecosystem services, such as reducing pollution, regulating climate, mitigating environmental disasters, and improving quality of life. Their role is increasingly being recognized by governments, businesses, and civil society, and COP28 will be an important occasion to highlight the need to incorporate biodiversity management and conservation into policy, aiming to protect not only our health but also our future.