Day Eight: Indiana Jones and the last species

The conference is almost over – there are only two more days of fevered discussions, late night meetings and off-side bilateral negations until final decisions will be made on what governments around the world will commit to regarding the future of biodiversity conservation. Ministers have now arrived at the conference and are entering high-level discussions while other more famous faces are being seen here as well – such as Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, who made a press statement today encouraging the USA to ratify the Convention, writes Dena Cator, Programme and Network Support Officer from IUCN's Species Programme. 

Dena Cator, Programme Officer, Network Support, IUCN Species Programme.

At this critical time, IUCN released today an update of the Red List of Threatened Species which brings home why the Convention on Biological Diversity exists and what its purpose is – to sustain the diversity of life on earth. The update resulted from the most comprehensive assessment of the world’s vertebrates to date and found that one-fifth of all mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species are threatened with extinction. On average, 50 vertebrate species move closer to extinction each year due to the impacts of agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation and invasive alien species.

However, the data from the Red List also show that strong conservation efforts can turn things around – the update found that without conservation action over the past 40 years, the status of biodiversity would have declined by 20 percent. An example of this is the white rhino in Africa which was reduced to several hundred individuals but has now rebounded to thousands thanks to strict legislation, poaching and trafficking control as well as government commitment to restoration of populations. Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC), said “History has shown us that conservation can achieve the impossible, but this is the first time we can demonstrate the aggregated positive successes on the state of the environment”.

The potential for conservation success is important to keep in mind as tired Parties and observers push in the last few days of the meeting to find common ground in achieving new direction for biodiversity conservation. Successes have already been seen – for example, strong and non-bracketed text for target 12 of the new CBD 2011-2020 Strategic Plan which deals with prevention of the extinction and decline of known threatened species. We will see how other important issues such as Access and Benefit Sharing and finances fare in turn.

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