Scientists Urge Action at Planet Under Pressure Conference

Logging in Odzala, Republic of Congo.

Logging in Odzala, Republic of Congo. (© CI/ photo by Haroldo Castro)

This week in London, the Planet Under Pressure conference is underway, attended by over 3,000 delegates from all parts of the world. I’m here representing CI, along with colleagues from the Science and Knowledge division and the Cambodia and Brazil field programs.

The aim of the conference is to take a close look at our knowledge of Earth systems and the pressures on the planet. The conference began with a discussion of the state of the planet in the Anthropocene epoch — the current period of Earth’s geologic history, whose name, meaning “the recent age of man,” emphasizes the extent of the impacts that human activities are having on ecosystems across the globe.

The message is quite clear: The pressures on the Earth are large and potentially disastrous. However, the conference also focused on opportunities that can promote a sustainable future for the Earth’s ecosystems and the well-being of the people who rely on them.

As a freshwater expert, I have been following the freshwater sessions, and co-convened a session called “Conservation of freshwater ecosystems: towards sustainable management for future generations.” Our session drew on the experience of colleagues working on freshwater systems in South America, Europe, West Africa, and South and Southeast Asia, and included CI-Cambodia’s Bunnara Min’s overview of the work being done by CI and partners around Tonle Sap Lake.

The session covered many themes of freshwater management, but some of its central messages were:

  • The need to better describe the relationships between freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem function, which impacts ecosystem services such as freshwater provision and flood regulation.
  • The need to look carefully at the lessons we can learn from previous mistakes in freshwater management, and apply those lessons to future actions and decisions.
  • The range in types of payment for ecosystem services (PES) and conservation stewardship programs. Although freshwater PES schemes in different parts of the world have been shown to be effective, they vary significantly in design from region to region.
  • The importance of integrating management programs across scales, from regional to national, which will help promote transboundary water management.

The conference has been an excellent opportunity to meet colleagues at other organizations, including those from IUCN Species Survival Commission who convened a session called “Securing global biodiversity: a human imperative for a sustainable planet,” and the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), who are using this conference to profile a paper, “Building a global observing system for biodiversity.”

It’s been a busy week for all of us at Planet Under Pressure, sharing research with our peers and discussing potential solutions. Earlier today, the co-chairs of the conference released the “State of the Planet” declaration (PDF – 693.29), which emphasized that without urgent action, we could face a “humanitarian emergency on a global scale.” The declaration also called on world leaders to make new political commitments toward sustainable development at the upcoming United Nations Rio+20 conference in June.

Ian Harrison coordinates fundraising for the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment (GFBA), a joint program run by Conservation International, IUCN’s Species Programme, and NatureServe.

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