The world is waking up to the biodiversity crisis. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed by 175 countries, reflects the global consensus of the importance of biodiversity in maintaining the planet’s life sustaining systems.The entire complement of species on earth and their interactions that maintain natural ecosystems represent an evolutionary heritage that we are destroying at an unprecedented rate. Year after year, reports on deforestation from the world’s tropical rainforests remind us of the continued loss of the earth’s biological wealth. At present rates, we will soon find ourselves in the unenviable position to have to explain to our grandchildren why we did not take action to halt this rampant destruction. What we are only beginning to realize is that our own survival does in fact depend on the myriad of species that inhabit our world. The complex and irreplaceable natural communities provide environmental services that we take for granted. Clean air and water, soil conservation, watershed protection, pollination of major food crops, to name but a few, are natural services that depend on healthy natural ecosystems, and for which we have no substitutes. Unfortunately, the basis of many of these services are being eroded and destroyed resulting in large-scale problems. Recent flooding in China resulted from large-scale deforestation in major watersheds. An increase in the frequency of respiratory diseases in many tropical countries can be linked to the increased frequency of fires in those areas, covering densely populated areas with clouds of smoke for months at a time. Also, emerging diseases of global consequences, such as AIDS, are a direct result of human-induced environmental modifications.
More importantly, we are now finding out that seemingly isolated acts of destruction are in fact very much related and are combining to produce double jeopardy at the global scale. While the burning of fossil fuels creates smog problems in most large cities, emitted gases are also contributing to global warming. As more areas of tropical forest are being destroyed, leading to species extinctions, the gases released during the burning of large expanses of cut forest are also contributing to the warming of our planet. It is also possible that global warming is leading to an increase in the frequency of “natural” disasters such as increased rainfall in certain areas and more frequent El Nino events. These climatic events can in turn stress natural systems leaving them more vulnerable to destruction feeding back into the global warming loop.
The most pressing of all environmental problems is the loss of biological diversity. The mass extinction of species, if allowed to persist, would constitute a problem far different for our other environmental problems. We could clean up acid rain, turn back deserts and repair the ozone layer within a matter of decades; re-grow the forests and restore the topsoil within a century or so; and even stabilize climate within a few centuries. But evolutionary processes would not generate a replacement stock of species within less than several million years.
The extinction crisis is bound to hit harder and sooner the threatened biodiversity hotspots that collectively concentrate nearly 60% of terrestrial life forms. These cover a mere 1.4% of the surface of the planet. The major wilderness areas, the only relatively large blocks of tropical forest areas in the world, are also facing alarming trends, and may in a few decades look much like the present-day hotspots. Finally, high priority coastal and marine ecosystems are being degraded by human activity perhaps beyond their recovery potential.
The protection of biodiversity over the next decade will constitute an immense challenge for humanity. Will and means alone will not suffice. Science needs to be at the forefront of the process to identify major threats and priority strategies to overcome foreseeable catastrophic events for biological diversity. This conference, to be chaired by two of the most prominent scientific leaders of the 20th Century, Drs. Edward O. Wilson (Harvard University) and Gordon Moore (Chairman Emeritus and Co-Founder of Intel Corporation), will congregate leading expertsin biodiversity. These scientists will provide a synthesis of our most current understanding of the biodiversity crisis, its dimension and intricacies, pointing to the direction of the necessary actions in the immediate future. These, in turn, will be scrutinized by corporate leaders and other representatives of the private sector, in addition to decision-makers from selected countries, with the final aim of arriving at a concrete agenda to immediate begin turning the tide for biodiversity in key regions around the world. The main message will be that the challenge, although extremely difficult and complex, can be effectively addressed by a conjunction of tangible efforts by the major players in our society.
CABS has identified key issues that will be discussed over the course of the 5 day conference. These issues include:
- Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Group
- Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Human Health
- Preserving Coastal and Marine Biodiversity: The Next Frontier for Conservation Science and Action
- Major Biodiversity Bottlenecks: A Hotspots’ Salvage Strategy
- Maintaining Key Evolutionary Processes: Short-Term Actions for a Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the Major Wilderness Areas
- Social Drivers and Biodiversity: Social Forces Threatening Biodiversity