Clearly, there is something wrong with our relationship with nature globally, and our region is no exception.
Take the example of the Saiga. Human beings have brought this species to the brink of extinction. The atrocities of helicopter poaching these beautiful animals have been well described by Kyrgyz Nobel-prize nominee Chingiz Aitmatov in his novel the Scaffold (“Плаха”).
If being hunted and killed was not enough, over 30 million hectares of the Saiga’s home – the steppe grasslands – have been unwisely plowed in Central Asia for arable agriculture in the middle of the last century. How is it possible for a species to survive if humans have destroyed or modified all but 1.9 percent of what used to be its home range?
Or take wetlands: 20 to 40 years ago people drained wetlands for agriculture or production of peat briquettes.
As a result, 1 million hectares of man-made deserts have replaced some of the most fertile land in the region – unusable for people or wildlife; and five to 22 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare is emitted into the air annually through soil decomposition and wildfires.
Degraded peatlands are among the primary causes of the infamous peat fires in Russia in 2010, estimated to have cost the lives of 56,000 people.
Viewing a natural or a restored wetland gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Because they will no longer emit carbon or release suffocating smoke, restoring peatlands offers tangible climate and health benefits.
But protecting biodiversity is not only about our collective responsibility or about reducing health risks. Believe it or not, humans can expediently destroy their own resource base: deforestation and habitat destruction are proven to have led to collapse of civilizations in the past.
Have we learned from the collapse of the Easter Island or Stone Age Greenland civilizations?
It seems we have not. Our resource consumption is clearly beyond what the earth can provide. The role model is the so-called “developed” countries. Take a look at the biological capacity dotted against the current consumption footprint of Italy:
“Virtually every country in the Mediterranean region consumes more ecological resources than local ecosystems can replenish. To cover the widening gap between supply and demand, the region is increasingly relying on global resources, of which there are less. Meanwhile, growing competition for such resources undermines the region’s ability to secure them elsewhere.” (Global Footprint Network)
In this context, will fiscal help from the European Commission suffice to address the root-cause of the crisis? Is this the “development model” craved by countries which are not yet “developed”?
Although much has been done to protect and restore steppes, wetlands and species, and provide new opportunities for people to make a living while respecting natural resources, there is much to be done. (See: Biodiversity: Delivering results in Europe and the CIS for an outline of best practices over the past 20 years)
What’s ahead? UNDP just shared its global strategy on biodiversity, and will work with national governments to protect biodiversity and manage ecosystems across 1.4 billion hectares of land and bodies of water.
What concerns you most about protecting biodiversity?
Do you think human beings will be able to protect our natural resources?