Filed under: Environment

Clearly, there is something wrong with our relationship with nature globally, and our region is no exception.

Newly born Saiga twins, Photo: Adriana Dinu

Newly born Saiga twins, Photo: Adriana Dinu

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.

Wetlands in Belarus, before restoration

Wetlands in Belarus, before restoration

Wetlands in Belarus after restoration

Wetlands in Belarus after restoration

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?

  • Without having seen the latest ‘global strategy’ I’d suggest that the pattern of institutional responses over the entire 40 year period of managing global problems has self-evidently failed. We’re in the habit of designing responses that are well-intended but ineffectual. Yet failure could, if we tried, carve out space for new thinking that observes why we fail and designs policy solutions on a fresh scale of ambition.

    For example, the topics of this interesting blog, development, consumption and relations with nature, correspond to three of the global-scale policy shifts that appear necessary (#1, 3 and 5)

  • The biggest concern that I have is that the pace of biodiversity destruction is far too higher than the pace of acknowledging that biodiversity is the crucial base for our human survival. More and more people get better understanding why they and everyone around need to do whatever possible to conserve biodiversity. And surely we need to continue doing whatever it takes to increase the pace of understanding. But what I am scared of is that by the time when the majority will comprehend how important biodiversity is there will be no biodiversity left to protect. I am scared that we shall understand what we have lost only after we will lose it for good.