Loss of Biodiversity

Species, habitats and ecosystems, the planet’s whole natural heritage, is under an ever-increasing threat. Many species and habitats are in decline and in some cases their future is endangered. Irreversible losses have already occurred, with many species having already become extinct, and the rate of extinctions is increasing. The extinction of one species results in the irreversible loss of a unique suite of genetic adaptations that have been acquired typically over very long time scales of hundreds of thousands of years.

Undoubtedly human behaviour now causes, directly and indirectly, considerable loss of biological diversity. Globally, the degradation of biological diversity is principally due to habitat destruction, the introduction of non-native species and over-exploitation. The relative effects of these three factors varies in time and location. In Ireland today, habitat degradation and loss is the main factor eroding biodiversity, including through changes in agricultural practices, poorly managed afforestation, drainage, pollution and the impacts of invasive species. The influence of climatic change is becoming increasingly important.


(Moss Carder Bumblebee © Liam Lysaght)


International Context

In 1992, the largest-ever meeting of world leaders took place at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where a comprehensive strategy for “sustainable development” was agreed, meeting our needs while ensuring that we leave a healthy and viable world for future generations.

An historic set of agreements was signed at the “Earth Summit”, including two binding agreements, the Convention on Climate Change, which targets industrial and other emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The biodiversity treaty gained rapid and widespread acceptance. Over 150 governments signed the document at the Rio conference, and since then more than 180 countries have ratified the agreement. Ireland signed the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 and ratified it in 1996.

The Convention has three main goals:

• the conservation of biodiversity,

• sustainable use of the components of biodiversity, and

• sharing the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way

The Convention is comprehensive in its goals, and deals with an issue so vital to humanity’s future, that it stands as a landmark in international law. It recognizes, for the first time, that the conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind” and is an integral part of the development process. The agreement covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources. It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably. It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use. It also covers the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, addressing technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and biosafety. Importantly, the Convention is legally binding; countries that ratify it are obliged to implement its provisions. The Convention reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and sets out a new philosophy for the 21st century, that of sustainable use. While past conservation efforts were aimed at protecting particular species and habitats, the Convention recognises that ecosystems, species and genes must be used for the benefit of humans. However, this should be done in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity.

The Convention also offers decision-makers guidance based on the precautionary principle that where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat. The Convention acknowledges that substantial investments are required to conserve biological diversity. It argues, however, that conservation will bring us significant environmental, economic and social benefits in return. Stakeholder involvement in decision making is also an important element of the Convention.

(Taken from https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/content/files/guidelines_production_local_biodiversity_action_plans_draft_2003_546kb.pdf)

Irish Stoat © Carrie Crowley/Crossing the Line Films