One in 8.7 million

26th August 2011

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Agriculture ,
  • Business & Industry ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Natural resources



After scientists reveal new estimates for the number of species on the planet, Sarah-Jayne Russell reflects on the importance of understanding our place in the ecosystems that surround us

It is very humbling to think that we are just one species out of the 8.7 million that inhabit this planet. It is also a great responsibility.

Conservationists estimate that up to 30,000 species become extinct every year and, when we consider that more than approximately 87% of species are unknown to science, we cannot predict what impact these extinctions will have on the finely balanced ecosystems that we rely upon to survive.

In recent years it has become startlingly obvious that we have done a terrible job at understanding the value of services provided by the ecosystems surrounding us, such as water purification, protection from floods and the pollination of crops.

In the UK, the National Ecosystems Assessment confirmed that over the last 60 years government, organisations and individuals have consistently failed to appreciate our natural resources and as a result 30% of ecosystems are in decline.

The same is true the world over; up to 10 million hectares of farmland are lost each year through soil degradation, 5.2 million hectares of forest being cut down annually, billions of people still lacking access to clean water and increasing biodiversity loss.

Governments and policymakers are belatedly beginning to realise that in order to face the challenges presented by climate change and population growth, we need a better approach to dealing with our natural surroundings and what they provide us.

Following the agreement of the Nagoya Protocol in October last year, against which 41 countries have pledged to tackle biodiversity loss, the UN Environment Programme has this week published a report arguing that global food production could double sustainably if farmers adopt an ecosystems approach.

The report says that if the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors can be inspired to consider their activities as part of a wider ecosystem that provides clean water, nutrient-rich soil, protection from floods and unpolluted air, for example, water resources can be better managed and land degradation can be slowed, greatly benefiting many of the world’s poor communities and assuring food security.

The same principles can and should be applied by all organisations regardless of their sector. Every business should be considering how operations both affect and are affected by the natural environment, to be truly pursuing the sustainability agenda.

If an organisation understands its place in the wider ecosystem it can take action to mitigate negative impacts and work to improve its resilience, be that through better water and resource management, protecting natural drainage areas, planting trees or working with suppliers and the local community.

The first step, however, is awareness. As the UNEP report says, we need to change fundamentally the way people think about ecosystems services. As environmentalists we need to communicate to our colleagues, suppliers and customers that clean air and water, rich soil and natural resources are not free.

Do you agree? Why not start a discussion in the IEMA LinkedIn Group and have your say?


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