Tag Archives: biodiversity

Towards diverse and sustainable governance ? Assessment of biocultural diversity (BCD) in European cities

Today more than half of the global population lives in urban regions and by 2030 the proportion is expected to have increased to 60 % (Elmqvist et al., 2013). To meet the needs of future generation, to support social cohesion within and among different socio-cultural groups, and to enable healthy living environments, cities are the main arena where sustainable solutions have to be developed. Especially urban green spaces (e.g. parks, forests, gardens, meadows, seashores) can support to meet these challenges. Urban green areas have been found to support citizen’s physical and mental wellbeing and social cohesion (Peters et al., 2010; Tzoulas and Green, 2011).

Read the brief and share your comments below:

Development of natural product drugs in a sustainable manner

For approximately 85% of the world’s population, plant materials are a primary source of health care (Fabricant & Farnsworth 2001). This fact is not sufficiently accepted by pharmaceutical companies that are producing synthetic drugs for decades as solutions for incurable diseases. Knowledge of plants and their medicinal properties that were transmitted from generation to generation is in danger of disappearing. Developed countries in alliance with their large pharmaceutical companies, constantly in the struggle for new markets, do not permit the development of local pharmaceutical companies in developing countries.

Although it is generally known that nature provides right solutions in a form of medicinal plants corresponding exactly to the homeland of a particular human community, it often happens that we treat diseases with preparations originating from very distant countries. Even nowadays, we are facing a paradox with the same problem present for centuries: Outside parties frequently manipulate and interfere with local policy makers in order to gain access to local communities’ environmental resources. In addition, mainstream science and more developed society exploit environmental knowledge for locating and extracting natural resources, and making use of medicinal plants for commercial purposes. Developing communities or countries rarely benefit economically. At a time when we are facing global economic crisis, which most severely affects developing countries, assistance in raising their own capacities, including development of renewable natural products, would strengthen the economy of these countries, and economically unburden the rest of the world.

Humankind is not sufficiently aware that natural products drug discovery is important for new generations as a tool for their health care (Cordell & Colvard 2012). We know that for the major lethal diseases, there are no truly effective drug treatments. In addition, drug resistance to existing chemotherapeutic regimens for fungal and bacterial infections, AIDS, cancer, and malaria is increasing. Because of the challenges for health care in the future, this is the call for decision-makers, governments, international agencies, and pharmaceutical companies to commit to the sustainable development of natural products as medicinal
agents, particularly in developing countries.

Medicinal plants, both endemic and widespread, their resources and knowledge about their usage must be preserved since these plants could be renewable source for new drugs. It is known that chemicals and chemical reagents are typically non-renewable, and their use depletes our future resources. Consequently, all drug discovery programs, synthetic or natural, must be the concept of sustainability (Cordell 2011).

Read the full brief and share your comments below.

Role of Modern Biotechnology in Sustainable Development; Addressing Social-Political Dispute of GMOs that Influences Decision-Making in Developing countries

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) technology has been widely used in agriculture in the last years in several regions, and has diverse potentials in addressing the challenges of sustainable development such as pest and diseases, drought, malnutrition and food insecurity, in developing countries. However, controversies surrounding the possible risks of GM technology have also spread on public concern. Despite potential risks, no reported case has been documented regarding negative impact from GMOs in the country since 1996 when GM crops were first commercialized (James, 2014). This is consistent with a recent study based on 15 years of intense research and risk assessment, that GM crops do not pose greater risks for human health or the environment than traditionally bred varieties (Fagerstrom et al., 2012). Moreover, analyses have shown substantial socio-economic and environmental
benefits of GM crops (Brookes and Barfoot, 2012; James, 2014).

GM technology has yet to make any visible impact on food security almost two decades after the first GMO products were released, partly due to lack of consensus as to how to regulate GMO products and controversy surrounding the adoption of GMOs (Adenle et al., 2013). For example, the genetically modified rice called ‘Golden’ rice, developed 20 years ago, aimed to address the problem of vitamin A deficiency in developing countries including countries in Africa, has suffered another huge setback due to a recent destruction of rice field trials in the Philippines as vandals claimed that the GMOs represent a threat to health and biodiversity.

Social-political dispute between developed nations (e.g., the US and Europe) has influenced the regulation and decision-making on GMO issues in many developing countries. This dispute has spilled over to international regulation of GMOs, with the US aligning its GMO policy with the World Trade Organization (WTO) whilst the EU strictly applies precautionary principle of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (Dibden et al., 2013).

Read the full brief and share your comments below.

Anthropogenic Drivers of Emerging Infectious Diseases

The Ebola crisis in West Africa highlighted critical deficiencies in global health infrastructure, as well as the impact of disease outbreaks to developing economies. The recent emergence of other diseases, including SARS, H7N9 and Marburg virus, has been linked to human practices, many which also correlate with the leading drivers of biodiversity loss. The following science brief provides an overview of findings to support a more proactive, integrated and preventive approaches to disease emergence, which emphasize the need for a more coherent set of sustainable development goals and targets that better reflect the interconnected nature of the tripartite health, conservation and development challenges that we face.

Click on the link below to read the full brief and share your comments

Sacred natural sites provide ecological libraries for landscape restoration and institutional models for biodiversity conservation

In spite of expanding formal protected areas and numerous global agreements to reduce the impacts of human activities on the environment, clearing of the world’s natural forests and the resultant loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services continues at an alarming pace (Watson et al., 2014). The causes of deforestation are diverse and complex, including economic and institutional factors, compounded by climate change. The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity agreed upon at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity emphasized the need for investment in institutions for the protection and management of biodiversity and ecosystems (CBD, 2010), with Rio+20 discussions noting “these institutions must be able to cope with changes in ecosystems, steer away from abrupt change in ecosystem function, and provide a buffer from the most detrimental consequences of unavoidable changes” (Díaz et al., 2012).

But creating institutions for conservation and biodiversity management can be both difficult and costly (McCarthy, 2012). Conservation can be especially challenging in vast human-modified landscapes such as farmland and pasture which comprise much of the 84.6% of the Earth’s land area which remains outside formal protected areas (UNEPWCMC, 2014). One alternative to building new institutions from scratch is supporting and learning from conservation institutions that exist. Sacred natural sites – such as the thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox church forests scattered across Ethiopia’s Northern Highlands (Figure 1) – represent ecologically and institutionally diverse libraries of biodiversity, whose full ecological and institutional values have only begun to be appreciated.

Read the full brief below and share your comments.

Austrocedrus forests of South America are pivotal ecosystems at risk due to the emergence of an exotic tree disease: can a joint effort of research and policy save them?

Human expansion, global movement, and climate change have led to a number of emerging and re-emerging diseases. The decline of biodiversity due to emerging plants pathogens may cause habitat and wildlife loss and declines in ecosystem services. This, in turn, often results in lower human well-being. Reports
of emerging plant diseases are constantly on the rise, and often they appear to be linked to the commercial trade of plants and plant products. While there are several examples of decimation or extinction of plant hosts affected by invasive forest diseases, there are no known cases of invasive forest diseases successfully eradicated.

Austrocedrus chilensis covers today a total estimated area of 185,000 ha in South America. As a dominant forest species, its role in supporting biodiversity, generating shelter for wildlife, as well as preventing soil erosion and preserving water quality is well understood. Along with Araucaria araucana, it is the tree species that grows furthest into the ecotone zone within the Patagonia steppe, where it plays a key role preventing desertification. There are however additional functions this tree provides, including the production of valuable timber and the generation of an environment ideal for cattle grazing, recreational and touristic activities and for human settlement. As one moves South, this species becomes more and more important, and it is often one of only three dominant native tree species in forests. Due to its ecological importance and to its role in fostering human activities, A. chilensis can be regarded an essential element of the agro-forest society of both Chile and Argentina.

Starting in 1948, significant mortality of A. chilensis was reported in several areas.

Read the full brief below and share your comments.

Long term sustainability of agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystems: the case of montado cultural landscape

The montado (dehesa in Spain) is recognized as a unique agro-silvo-pastoral ecosystem found only in the Mediterranean basin. These savannah-like landscapes are dominated by cork and holm oaks, shaped over millennia of traditional land use practices. These multi-use forests are a typical example of agroforestry systems facing environmental pressures (climate, land use or degradation), social changes (rural abandonment, ecotourism) and economic trends (e.g. EU policy changes). Today the traditional management practices are threatened, as are the benefits associated with the montado….

Read the full brief below and share your comments:

Conserving traditional seed crops diversity

Over the last two decades, 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost; 100 to 1000-fold decrease overtime. This phenomenon results in the decrease of ecosystem abilities to provide food for people and decrease the function of other ecosystem services. Crop varieties, as an integral part of genetic diversity, are the result of human selection and management as well as natural mechanisms of evolution. Evolution, based on mutation, natural hybridization, introgression and selection, adapts plant populations to the (agro-) environment. Plant breeding by farmers and specialists builds on these phenomena, makes them more efficient, and focuses them on farmers’ needs. Genetic diversity is the basis of all crop improvement.

Meanwhile the crop diversity has been decreasing, the World Bank estimates that about one billion of world’s population will still live in extreme poverty in 2015. 70% of world’s poor people are living in rural areas and they are relying on the agriculture sector, particularly on traditional agricultural systems. FAO suggests that efforts to eradicate hunger require an integrated approach especially to increase agricultural productivity and strengthen farmers’ resilience to environmental changes. In regard to FAO suggestion, it is important to restore crop diversity.

Read the full brief below and share your comments:

The promise of synthetic biology for sustainable development

The field of synthetic biology opens up the possibility of finding solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges – water, energy, food, health – but at the same time raises novel questions about appropriate regulation of new technologies.

Synthetic biology builds on the achievements and uses the techniques of genetic engineering, which involves the alteration of an organism’s genetic material using biotechnology. Synthetic biology has been defined as “the design and construction of new biological parts, devices, and systems, and the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes” (Nature). It has also been described as “the construction of customized biological systems to perform new and improved functions, through the application of principles from engineering and chemical synthesis” (ter Meulen, 2014). Synthetic biology represents the convergence of technologies from the life sciences, such as DNA recombination, with other fields like engineering, computational technology and nanotechnology (OECD, 2014).

Read the full brief below and share your comments: