Biodiversity – the diversity of ecosystems, organisms and their interactions – is threatened as never before, despite all efforts. In this interview, Helmut Hillebrand talks about 30 years of the Rio Convention and the central role biodiversity plays on our planet.
Prof. Hillebrand, this Sunday, around the world people commemorate the International Day for Biological Diversity. Why is biodiversity important for us humans at all?
Almost all processes on Earth we as humans depend on – the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat – are biological achievements and are directly related to biodiversity. Without biodiversity, there is no human life. And: biodiversity is the defining feature of our planet. This also results, I believe, in an ethical obligation to protect biodiversity.
The first Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was ratified as early as 1992. The so-called Rio Convention was the first global legal framework for the protection of biodiversity.
The fact that the Rio Convention came about was something extraordinary and was highly celebrated at the time. The ratification triggered an important process.
Nevertheless, in a 2019 report, the international scientific body IPBES stated: "Biodiversity – the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems – is declining faster than at any time in human history." Has nothing improved since the first convention?
Yes, unfortunately. And it gets even worse. The states that signed the convention had adopted the so-called Aichi Targets in 2010. The goal was to limit biodiversity loss by 2020. But the report on this, which was published in autumn 2020, had to state: We have not achieved a single one of these goals. One of the goals, for example, was to reduce the global extinction rate of species. And we didn't manage to do that – even though we invested a lot in nature conservation.
Why is that?
The problem is threefold. First, the additional investments in protected areas have been eaten up by increased pressures on the environment. We have not reduced the pressures on biodiversity caused by land use, pollution or overuse. The second thing is: biodiversity constantly changes. There is no easy return to a beautiful yesterday of any kind, because the nature of interactions between organisms is diverse and complex. And thirdly many measures that make sense in principle – for example, giving an area a protected status – cannot be adequately implemented and monitored. Often, there is a lack of resources and personnel. This is a huge problem with marine protected areas, for example.