- Biodiversity is key in less industrialized nations, where 1 in 3 jobs depends on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- As preparations end in Geneva before formal negotiations on the Convention on Biodiversity next month, a Goldman Prize-winning Haitian environmentalist argues that biodiversity is a matter of food security and livelihoods, and must be put in that context to drive the urgency and progress this moment requires.
- A “shift to the language of food security and protecting livelihoods can open biodiversity dialogue to developing nations in ways the current conversation is not,” he writes.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.
From substantial philanthropic pledges to studies revealing the increasing threat of extinction, world leaders are paying unprecedented attention to biodiversity. In March, governments gathered to continue shaping the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) post-2020 global biodiversity framework to galvanize urgent action by governments and society to protect biodiversity in advance of its adoption later in the year.
The need for these united efforts is more critical than ever. Biodiversity is declining at alarming rates, we are running out of time to slow the loss, and the future of our planet—from food and water to the global economy—depends on it. It is especially essential in developing nations, where 1 in 3 jobs depends on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Despite this reality, developed nations often lead biodiversity debates in language that fails to connect with the people and priorities of developing nations—who are often facing more immediate ongoing struggles, like hunger and poverty. These same nations are the most impacted by biodiversity loss and cannot be left out of a global framework of solutions—but this will require shifting how we frame the issue to recognize these nations’ daily realities. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s stated goals include ensuring biodiversity’s benefits, such as nutrition, food security, and livelihoods reach the “most vulnerable” people. To make this vision possible, a shift to the language of food security and protecting livelihoods can open biodiversity dialogue to developing nations in ways the current conversation is not.
My home nation of Haiti is one such country—we have more immediate issues to focus on than “biodiversity,” yet the futures of our food system and economy depend on our ability to retain and protect it, especially our coral reefs. Both in Haiti and globally, coral reefs are critical to human survival. They support 25% of our ocean’s marine life, provide food security to much of the world, contribute trillions to the global economy, and even provide critical protection during natural disasters for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Despite their importance, the world has lost 14 percent of its coral reefs from 2009 to 2018 alone from climate change, pollution, and over-fishing. The very survival of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Haiti is directly tied to the health of our reefs. A collapse of the ecosystem would dismantle our food systems, which have already been drained by years of illegal and destructive fishing practices, leading to increased starvation for families across our nation.
The need to protect reefs is clear but communicating this poses challenges. It is hard to make a case for prioritizing biodiversity to Haitians facing ongoing humanitarian challenges like poverty, political unrest, and environmental disasters. But the solution is simpler than one might think—“biodiversity” may not resonate, but access to food, clothing, and shelter does, all of which rely on ecosystem services. Anchoring biodiversity in this context can help communities and governments see the shared value in protecting coral reefs. Nations with the power to shape the global conversation must be mindful of the perspectives of those whose livelihoods depend on biodiversity.
There are immediate actions we can take to protect Haiti’s reefs, but they will require supporting communities as they transition to more sustainable livelihoods. Overfishing is in our control, but policy and enforcement alone cannot end the practice if a fisher lacks a viable alternative to feed their family. As we move to restore balance to our marine habitats, we must manage the transition in a way that ensures Haitians can provide for their families. Developed nations—not Haitians—are most responsible for climate change, yet it is our livelihoods threatened by the consequences. These countries must help curb the global appetite for fish, fund interventions, and influence policy that resolves these issues.
World leaders and their governments have a once-in-decade opportunity to secure a future for coral reefs through The Convention on Biological Diversity’s biodiversity framework. To be successful, the framework must prioritize vulnerable ecosystems, protect remaining ecosystems while restoring those around them, adopt global indicators of success, and engage developing nations in this conversation. Fortunately, efforts are taking shape that will help nations like mine. New finance mechanisms like the Global Fund for Coral Reefs are enabling innovative resilience efforts that protect reefs and generate revenue for host nations. Monitoring is more possible than ever with the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network’s status reports and the Allen Coral Atlas’ monitoring tools. These resources inspire hope for biodiversity conservation, but global leaders must commit to prioritizing countries most impacted, bringing them in as partners, and financing the solutions necessary to collectively protect our planet and its ecosystems.
Jean Wiener is the director of Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine, and has worked on environmental, coastal and marine issues since 1991. He is Haiti’s most awarded environmentalist, having won the Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award, the Erick Eckman Award, and the Goldman Environmental Prize, among others.
Banner image: Fishing in Fiji. Image courtesy of Tom Vierus/WCS.
Related listening from Mongabay’s podcast: A discussion of marine biodiversity and the challenges facing marine protected areas in The Philippines, many of which are managed by local communities, listen here: