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Nature is not a -nice to have- - it-s our life support system. Dwindling biodiversity endangers the very foundation of our existence. A turnaround is possible, but only if we all want it, says Christoph Küffer.

The scale of the biodiversity crisis is such that it can no longer be tackled by a handful of nature protection areas and a couple of volunteers. Nature conservation has gone from a mere hobby to a global issue demanding commitment and concerted action. And this is what the International Day for Biological Diversity calls to our attention1.

The day dates to 22 May 1992, when countries around the world together drew up the Convention on Biological Diversity2, setting out commitments for saving the ecological underpinnings of life. Yet today, exactly 30 years later, we-ve little reason to celebrate.

Ecological degradation poses a systemic risk

Worldwide, population sizes of vertebrates such as mammals, birds and fish have seen an alarming average drop of 68 percent since 19703. And the situation is just as drastic for other species groups such as insects4 and plants5. The rate of extinction is accelerating6, jeopardising the very foundation of our existence.

Politicians and business leaders around the world have now taken this on board. The UK economic and finance ministry speaks of nature as -our most precious asset-, and of a collective failure to engage sustainably with nature7. The WEF lists biodiversity loss as a top global risk8, while Swiss Re finds a fifth of countries worldwide are threatened by ecosystem collapse9.

An ecological turnaround is possible

It’s widely agreed that any further depletion of nature will lead to collapse. We are already seeing a profusion of conflicts between expanding land use and last ecological refugia: intensive or organic agriculture? Dense or green cities? Renewable energy in nature reserves?

As an ecologist, I seek to show that ecological alternatives and win-win situations are possible. Restoring damaged ecosystems10 enhances synergies:

  • Humans need nature: instead of separating our lives from nature, we should engage in rich relationships with other living beings and our ecological lifeworld. Being close to nature improves our quality of life and promotes health11.
  • All landscape is nature: instead of protecting isolated pockets, we should regenerate all the exploited landscape. Restored landscapes buffer climate extremes, improve the landscape beauty and safeguard the services we receive from nature, such as pollination.
  • The economy needs nature: an ecological economy builds natural capital instead of destroying it. As many of our activities as possible should protect, restore or sustainably use the landscape.

Working with rather than against nature

Such -nature-based- solutions12 work in tandem with nature, generate income and - if well thought out - benefit biodiversity. For instance, agroecology can yield more robust crops and healthy soils, forests and peatlands mitigate climate change, and mangroves protect coastal areas.

This year, the International Day for Biological Diversity challenges us to -build a shared future for all life-. We can do this by fostering rich relationships with nature in our daily lives, promoting education and research on ecology and nature-based solutions, and investing in a nature-based economy.


1 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): International Day for Biological Diversity

2 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 .

3 WWF: Living Planet Report 2020

4 Widmer I, Mühlethaler R et al. (2021) Insektenvielfalt in der Schweiz: Bedeutung, Trends, Handlungsoptionen. Swiss Academies Factsheets 16 (4).

5 Federal Office for the Environment FOEN: Rote Liste Gefässpflanzen.

6 SCNAT Swiss Biodiversity Forum: Weltbiodiversitätsrat warnt vor drastisch beschleunigtem Artensterben

7 UK Government: The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review (2021)

8 WEF: Global Risk Report 2021: These are the top risks for business in the post-COVID world

9 Swiss Re: A fifth of countries worldwide at risk from ecosystem collapse as biodiversity declines (2020)

10 The UN has declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.

11 Recent research under the heading of -Biophilia- shows how strongly our health and quality of life hinge on a natural living environment. See SCNAT Swiss Biodiversity Forum: Biodiversity, a guarantee of health?

12 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Nature-based Solutions for people and planet

Christoph Küffer

Senior researcher, Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, and professor for urban ecology, University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil

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