Dr Cristiana Pașca Palmer, UN assistant secretary general and executive secretary of the convention on biological diversity, discusses Half Earth, a future biodiversity agreement and where to find the money to save life on Earth
Dr. Cristiana Pașca Palmer has a big job ahead of her: planning the 2020 UN Biodiversity Convention in Beijing. As the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Pașca Palmer is in charge of forming new goals with governments for the natural world post-2020. At the same time, a growing group of scientists are calling for a serious consideration of the Half Earth idea – where half the planet would be placed under various types of protection in a bid to prevent mass extinction.
Do you support the Half Earth model? What tweaks would you make to it?
Conservation scientists believe our current mass extinction crisis requires a far more ambitious agreement, in the style of the Paris Climate Accord. And they argue that the bill shouldn’t be handed just to nation states, but corporations too.
Let’s be honest, the global community’s response to the rising evidence of mass extinction and ecological degradation has been largely to throw crumbs at it. Where we have acted it’s been in a mostly haphazard and modest way — a protected area here, a conservation program there, a few new laws, and a pinch of funding. The problem is such actions — while laudable and important — in no way match the scope and size of the problem where all markers indicate that life on Earth continues to slide into the dustbin.
But a few scientists are beginning to call for more ambition — much more — and they want to see it enshrined in a new global agreement similar to the Paris Climate Accord. They also say that the bill shouldn’t just fall on nations, but the private sector too.
The discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan has not stopped a Chinese state-run company from clearing forest for a planned dam. Conservationists fear this will be the beginning of the end for a species only known for six months
Last November scientists made a jaw-dropping announcement: they’d discovered a new great ape hiding in plain sight, only the eighth inhabiting our planet.
The Tapanuli orangutan survives in northern Sumatra and it is already the most endangered great ape in the world; researchers estimate less than 800 individuals survive. But the discovery hasn’t stopped a Chinese state-run company, Sinohydro, from moving ahead with clearing forest for a large dam project smack in the middle of the orangutan population. According to several orangutan experts, Sinohyrdo’s dam represents an immediate and existential threat to the Tapanuli orangutan.
The Indonesian government needs to respect its own laws.
It would be the first extinction of a great ape in millennia. One has to ask: is that worth 510 megawatts?
Illegal pigeon hunting across Samoa is risking the extinction of the country’s national bird: the little dodo or manumea. Will this little-known island pigeon suffer the same fate as its namesake?
Nearly two hundred years after the extinction of the dodo, Sir William Jardin – a Scottish naturalist and bird-aficionado – described another odd, bulky, island pigeon. From the island of Samoa, this one was distinguished by a massive, curving bill that sported tooth-like serrations on its lower mandible. Given the strangeness of the creature, Jardine set it in its own genus and dubbed it Didunculus – the little dodo. Genetic evidence has since confirmed that the tooth-billed pigeon – or little dodo – is one of the closest living relatives of its long-deceased namesake. Today, the little dodo is at the very precipice of extinction, but it remains nearly as cryptic and little known as it did when Jardin gave it a scientific name in 1845.
The little dodo “is the last surviving species in its genus,” Rebecca Stirnemann said. “The Fijian and Tongan species [of the little dodo] are both extinct. It is the national bird of Samoa and appears in many of the stories often in association with chiefs.”
A shoestring expedition to one of the remotest places in Sumatra has returned with stunning photos of tigers, tapirs, clouded leopards among other rare species, large and small. Will they find orangutans next?
Last year a motley crew of conservationists, adventurers and locals trekked into one of the last unexplored regions of Sumatra. They did so with a mission: check camera traps and see what they could find. The team – organized by the small NGO, Habitat ID – came back with biological gold: photos of Sumatran tigers, Malayan tapirs, and sun bears. They also got the first record of the Sunda clouded leopard in the area and found a specimen of a little-known legless reptile called Wegner’s glass lizard. But most tantalizingly of all is what they didn’t find, but still suspect is there: a hidden population of orangutans that would belong to the newly described species, Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).
“The trek into the interior was fraught with hordes of leaches, wasps, cliffs, river-crossings, and trackless jungle, and it pushed everyone on the team to their limits,” Greg McCann, the head of Habitat ID and a team member, said, clearly relishing the adventure to an undisclosed area they call Hadabaun Hills.
Coral Triangle could be key to conserving the world’s reefs as Indonesia corals survive worst coral bleaching event in history.
A recent scientific survey off the coast of Sulawesi Island in Indonesia suggests that some shallow water corals may be less vulnerable to global warming than previously thought.
Between 2014 and 2017, the world’s reefs endured the worst coral bleaching event in history, as the cyclical El Niño climate event combined with anthropogenic warming to cause unprecedented increases in water temperature.
One third of all cetacean species are found in the waters off Timor-Leste, but measures are needed to protect them
Olive Andrews believes Timor Leste could be one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching. The research scientist with a particular interest in cetaceans drew this conclusion when she joined a survey team assessing the coastal waters north of Timor-Leste in October 2016. “I’ve never seen such a biomass of cetaceans in such a small geography,” she says. “We encountered 2287 cetaceans from 11 species, including superpods of up to 600 individuals.”
There are 90 distinct species of cetacean – and at least 30 of them occur in Timor-Leste. These include both local populations like melon-headed whales and spinner dolphins, and migratory species such as humpbacks and pygmy blue whales. Managed properly, whale tourism could generate significant income for Timor-Leste, one of the world’s youngest – and poorest – nations.
Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples calls for a new, rights-based approach to conservation
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has released a report highly critical of the global conservation movement and calling for indigenous peoples and other local communities to have a greater say in protecting the world’s forests. Titled Cornered by Protected Areas and co-authored with the US-based NGO Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), the report is an explicit condemnation of “fortress conservation.”
What exactly is meant by that? It is “the idea that to protect forests and biodiversity, ecosystems need to function in isolation, devoid of people,” the Rapporteur told the Guardian. “This model - favoured by governments for over a century - ignores the growing body of evidence that forests thrive when Indigenous Peoples remain on their customary lands and have legally recognised rights to manage and protect them.”
Part 1 of a report on the indigenous Siona people in the Putumayo region in the Amazon
Placido Yaiguaje Payaguaje, an indigenous Siona man, was standing right where his 80-something mother was blown apart by a land-mine. There was a crater about the size of a beach ball. Surrounding foliage had been shredded, and on some of the leaves and fronds you could still see the dynamite.
This was a 20 metre, steepish climb down to the banks of the River Piñuña Blanco, deep in the Colombian Amazon. Placido’s mother had come here to fish in a lagoon nearby. It was a popular spot for singo, sábalo and garopa.
In a country of more than 17000 islands, seaweed might be the ideal raw material for a bio-plastics revolution.
Indonesia produces more marine plastic pollution than any other country except China. This is perhaps unsurprising: the world’s biggest archipelago is also its fourth most populous. Limited income and cash flow means that poorer communities rely on cheap single-use plastics like bags, water cups and shampoo sachets. Waste management systems are rudimentary and each year millions of tonnes of trash ends up in waterways and eventually the ocean.
Last year Indonesia pledged US$1 billion to cut its marine waste by 70% by 2025. The country will have to tackle the issue on multiple fronts if this ambitious target is to be met. Besides changing consumer habits and improving waste management infrastructure, industry needs to move away from single use plastics and quickly introduce and scale up biodegradable alternatives.