Forum on biodiversity for business

Wednesday, 8 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

To raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity to business IUCN together with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Dilmah Conservation will be hosting a special evening for the business community where Craig Hilton -Taylor, Manager of the IUCN Red Listing Unit, Cambridge, UK will highlight the use of the IUCN Red List to identify and manage risks and real opportunities to business.

The event will be held at the Auditorium of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce at 5 p.m on Thursday 9 December 2010 and is open to the private sector.   

Loss of wild plants and animals is a threat to business. Nature tourism generates some $12 billion worldwide in annual revenues. The agri industry, which is now a $3 trillion global business, needs wild varieties for further improvement of common cultivated varieties of major crops like rice, wheat and corn. New sources of medicine worth billions of dollars for major killer diseases are yet to be discovered from wild plants. Roughly 119 pure chemical substances extracted from some 90 species of higher plants are used in the pharmaceutical industry around the world. In 1960, a child with leukemia had a 1 in 5 chance of remission. Now, thanks to anti-cancer drugs developed from a compound discovered in wild periwinkle plants, the same child’s chances of survival have increased to 80%. In USA alone, the economic benefits from wild plants and animals comprise approximately 4.5% of the Gross Domestic Product.

Every sector, whether it be trade, financial, or health, has its metrics for monitoring trends. For biodiversity The IUCN Red List is that metric. Around 45,000 species have been assessed to-date. This is a tiny fraction (2.7%) of the world’s described species (with current estimates of the total number ranging from 5 to 30 million). We now know that nearly one quarter of the world’s mammals, nearly one third of amphibians and more than 1 in 8 of all bird species are at risk of extinction. This allows us to come to the stark conclusion that wildlife (the word used in more technical circles is biodiversity) is in trouble, and the extent of the current risk of extinction varies between different species groups.

The findings of the 2007 Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka are alarming, when considering the fact that 33% of inland vertebrate fauna and 61% of the evaluated flora were found to be nationally threatened.  The threatened fauna and flora include many endemic species. 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 species of plants seem to have disappeared from the island during the past century.

From all this ‘gloom and doom’ arises the question – ‘What can we do about it?’ Less often articulated in public is a further point – ‘Is it even worth bothering given that the situation seems so bad?’ In some ways we do not apologise for highlighting ‘bad news’. IUCN believes that the release of The Red List acts as a clarion call for the drive to tackle the extinction crisis – and without those facts being made clear the world will not react. It is a ‘wake up call’ and used as such by governments, NGOs, the private sector and civil society as a whole to help spread their messages and educate the world about the need to conserve biodiversity.

We are hearing a great deal about the economic ‘credit crunch’. What we face also in the natural world is a ‘credit crunch for biodiversity’. As the world wakes up to its failure to achieve the ‘2010 target’ we must see a paradigm shift in our efforts to place true and realistic values on our wildlife. We need to set – and then reach - new ambitious targets to value and conserve the fundamental riches of our life support systems, and the wildlife and people that depend upon them.