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Ecosystem services - it’s an easier concept to turn into practical actions than biodiversity

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
Feb 2010
Publisher Name: 
Krista Kimmo
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"The climate alters the natural environments people are used to. Deciding what to protect is an ethical problem," says research scientist Markku Kanninen.

Senior Scientist, Mr. Markku Kanninen is not too keen on the term biodiversity. ”It just doesn’t work here in the tropics; it’s too abstract a word. You have to talk about birds, fish, tree species,” says the Indonesia-based scientist working with Cifor, the Center for International Forestry Research.

Our rendez-vous is not in the tropics, but in a café in wintry Helsinki, which Kanninen is visiting. The idea is to talk about what biodiversity and conserving it means, from the vantage point of the southern hemisphere.

First of all, Kanninen thinks that it is not enough to talk just about biodiversity.

Nature produces a lot of services
“I’d rather talk about ecosystem services. It’s an easier concept to turn into practical actions than biodiversity,” Kanninen says.

”Ecosystem services is a better concept, because people are used to buying services and know what the word service means. It also places manmade and natural systems side by side. Ecosystem services mean all the things that nature gives us: game, berries, timber, scenery, recreation, fresh water, habitats, medicine, protection from erosion,” Kanninen explains his reasoning.

Ecosystem services do not necessarily have a price tag, but they have a value.

The United Nations has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. 2010 is the year by which time the deprivation of biological biodiversity was supposed to decrease or even stop. This goal will not be met.

Humans simplify nature’s systems
Humans use nature in various ways and usually, this use leads to the decreasing of biodiversity, because humans simplify the natural processes. Modern agriculture is a good example of this, Kanninen feels.

”Usually, it is based on cultivating one species on a large area. Humans want to maximise production and favour one species. Inevitably this leads to the discrimination of others.”

The climate change is altering temperatures, precipitation, wind conditions, the length of the growing seasons and average temperatures. Habitats of some species will grow in size; others will shrink or migrate north or south. For some species the change will just be too fast for them to succeed in adapting to it or in moving to other places.

Protection and intensified production needed
Kanninen believes that it is possible to stop/slow down? the extinction of species and the deterioration of ecosystem services by using natural resources sensibly and by large enough conservation areas.

The conservation of habitats must be ensured, together with intensifying land use.

”One relevant challenge is how to get more out of the land already in agricultural use. In Latin America, there are four hectares of pasture for one cow.”

The problem is that it is cheaper to clear rain forests for new fields that to intensify the production on existing fields. When you clear rainforest, you get the income from the timber plus new fields, whereas intensifying the production of an old field requires investments.

Livelihoods advice enables protection
Finns do not understand that many developing countries have as good environmental legislation as Finland has, Kanninen feels. What is missing is the will to or capability of compliance or enforcement.

The sustainable use of nature and its protection are intertwined with a major tangle of social problems. It is a mixture of corruption, poverty, huge income differentials, disputed land ownership, traditional livelihoods, unemployment, inequality and magnificent natural resources.

Add climate change.

”In the tropics, we have already had conflicts between local people and international conservation organisations. Who is right, when the opposing issues are the protection of a species and the livelihood of local people?”

By now this has had the result that the conservation organisations have to offer local people advice on intensifying agriculture in order to ensure that the conservation targets will be met, for example.

There’s a lot to be saved in the tropics
”In the future, we will have ponder whether we should let a species disappear from one place if it can be preserved as a species elsewhere. Another ethical problem to be faced is whether we must let a species disappear in order to safeguard other species,” Kanninen ponders.

Political decisions about where to allocate available conservation funds must be made. This means deciding which protection measure is the most essential.

Observed from the southern hemisphere, the conservation arguments in the western welfare states can even seem amusing.

”In Europe and North America, the last percentages are fought over. There is so much more to be achieved in the tropics. The conservation benefits gained per one euro would be so much bigger. But the problems to be solved are much more difficult,” Kanninen thinks.

By Krista Kimmo


Extpub | by Dr. Radut