In Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters

In Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters

In amongst all countries within the MENA region, Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters, was by Samya Kullab dwells on what is most significant in that sub-region.

During ancient times, Iraqi lands were known as Mesopotamia, which meant “Land Between the Rivers”. It is a region whose extensive alluvial plains gave rise to some of the world’s earliest civilizations, such as Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria. It, therefore, houses diverse ethnic groups and has a very long and rich heritage. Fast forward to its contemporary presence; it was due mainly to the very ‘interested’ British intervention after the collapse of the Ottomans.
The Mesopotamian land marshes were once the largest wetland in the Middle East and home to an ancient civilization known as the Madan.
By 2000, a politically motivated environmental genocide resulted in the near extinction of numerous endemic species of birds and mammals.
Today efforts are underway to restore the hydrology of the marshes but salvage some of its inhabitants, be they be fauna or flora. Still, upstream water retention by Turkey, Iran and Syria through a series of dams and internal water reallocations of the transboundary water resources for agriculture and urban use seriously reduce the water available for restoration.
Fortunately, Iraq, working with international agencies, has created marsh restoration plans, protected Ramsar Sites, a National Park, and recently a World Heritage Site in the marshes, conservation efforts that promise a better future for the Madan
wetlands.

In Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters

CHIBAISH, Iraq (AP) — “Don’t move a muscle.” His command cut across the reeds rustling in the wind. On a moonlit embankment several kilometers from shore in Iraq’s celebrated southern marshes, everyone stood still.

Omar al-Sheikhly shined a flashlight across a muddy patch. “Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. His team of five exhaled in unison.

The environmentalist spearheaded this midnight expedition through the marshes of Chibaish. It is the latest in a quixotic mission that has spanned nearly two decades: to find any sign of Maxwell’s smooth-coated otter, a severely endangered species endemic to Iraq whose precarious existence is vital to the iconic wetlands.

Most of al-Sheikhly’s pursuits have been in vain; the quick-witted otter has always been one step ahead. But as climate change looms, finding evidence they still exist assumes new importance. Al-Sheikhly is among the conservationists issuing a stark warning: Without quick action to protect the otters, the delicate underwater ecology of the UNESCO protected site will be disrupted, and could all but wither away, putting at risk the centuries-old Iraqi marsh communities that depend on it.

At stake is everything: “We stand to lose our Iraqi heritage,” said al-Sheikhly, who is the technical director at Iraqi Green Climate Organization.

Studies indicate there are between 200-900 smooth-coated otters left in the marshlands. Dangerously unpredictable water levels, illegal fishing and neglect are driving their demise.

This year, Iraq is set to face an insufferable summer, with Turkish dam projects on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers compounding a year of low rainfall. “There is a real crisis,” Water Resources Minister Mahdi Rasheed al-Hamdani said this month.

Water rates from both rivers are half what they were last year, he said.

The Associated Press accompanied al-Sheikhly and his team on a 12-hour mission over two days in early May. At 8 a.m. on the second morning, al-Sheikhly was off again.

In long wooden canoes — called mashuf — they traversed narrow waterways lined with dense reedbeds crisscrossing the heart of the wetlands.

Jumping fish left ripples in their wake. Water buffalos languidly chewed grass. A kingfisher dove headfirst to catch unsuspecting prey.

As dragonflies chased his water-borne convoy, al-Sheikhly named whatever animal crossed his path as though they were acquaintances. “Marbled duck,” he pointed. “Squacco heron.” He has been studying them for 18 years.

Finding the evasive smooth-coated otter is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Since their discovery in 1956 by Scottish naturalist Gavin Maxwell, the otter, distinguished by its sleek dark fur and flattened tail, has only been photographed twice: when it was first found, and 60 years later, by al-Sheikhly.ADVERTISEMENT

Locals had tipped him off that otters were seen in the part of the marshes close to the Iran border. There, on the remnants of an old military road forged by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, he waited for six hours. He saw the otter for only a few seconds.

Because research efforts are so poorly funded and otters themselves are so hard to find, studies about the species have relied on their dead skins for signs of life.

In January 2006, the fresh skin of an adult male was obtained from a local fisherman — it was among the first indications that the otter still thrived.

On this mission al-Sheikhly watched for signs they leave behind: footprints, discarded fish heads, local sightings. He goes to areas they prefer, such as lakes lined with reedbeds and muddy shores.

In the central marshes of Dhi Qar province, his team happened upon two fishermen unloading the day’s catch. Al-Sheikhly stopped and asked them when they had last seen an otter — local observations are a main part of survey efforts.

“Maybe one year ago,” said one, piling mullets, catfish and carp onto a pickup.

Al-Sheikhly furrowed his brow.

“That is a big concern, if the local community sees them rarely it means something has happened,” he explained.

Their importance can’t be underestimated. To environmentalists, otters are known as “bio-indicators,” species used to assess the health of an entire ecosystem. Because they are on top of the food chain in Iraq’s marshes, eating fish and sometimes birds, their presence ensures balance.

There was a time when the otters were abundant.

British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, a contemporary of Maxwell, wrote in his travel book Marsh Arabs about one occasion when he spotted two otters playing a hundred yards away. “They appeared upright in the water, eyeing us for a few seconds, before they dived and disappeared.”

In that moment, his Iraqi escort reached for a gun. “Their skins were worth a dinar a piece,” he wrote. The durable otter skins were popular among smugglers who used them to transport illicit goods.

Hunting is on the decline, but electric pulse fishing, illegal but widely practiced in the south, is partly to blame. The electric pulse paralyzes the otter. Most die.

The fishermen who were questioned earlier each had electrocution devices on their boats, visible despite attempts to disguise them with carpets.

Al-Sheikhly said this might account for why otters are hard to spot. “Otters are smart, they know they are under threat and change their behaviors.”

Adaptability served them well throughout Iraq’s tumultuous history. The otters were feared extinct when Saddam drained the marshes in the 1990s to flush out hiding Shiite rebels. Since 2003, they have had to navigate a new Iraq where growing urban sprawl and industrialization has taken precedence.

As a result, Iraqi marsh communities are increasingly losing touch with the wetlands they dwell in.

On an island grazing ground for water buffalos, a marsh Arab boy tended to the animals. In the background, oil flares shot plumes of acrid smoke into the air — a ubiquitous sight in crude-rich southern Iraq.

But the greatest enemy to Iraq’s endemic otter species is an incalculable one: Water.

Cruising through a wide waterway, al-Sheikhly said that just last year the entire channel had been dry. Flooding re-filled it, but little rainfall this year threatens levels again. Experts said it is already decreasing by one centimeter a day.

One local woman, Um Muntadhar, said when the water dries up, the birds migrate and her livestock dies. “It is not livable here anymore,” she said.

The U.N. estimates at least 250 square kilometers (96 square miles) of fertile land in Iraq is lost annually to desertification. Rising salinity will likely drive out if not wipe away endemic species.

Iraqis largely blame Turkey’s Ilisu dam project for shortages. Turkish officials said Iraq’s request that Ankara release a set amount of water per year is impossible in the age of climate change.

“So much is unpredictable, we suffer,” said one Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In an open lake at the cusp of the Hammar marshes, al-Sheikhly halted the boat and quickly removed his shoes.

He appeared from a distance like a marshland messiah: knee-deep in water, curly hair dancing in the wind, anchored by a wooden stick.

Threatened from all sides, environmentalists say it will take a miracle to push for conservation of the area.

But al-Sheikhly was absorbed in something unseen. “Listen, listen,” he said.

Exploitation of Phosphate and Iron in Algeria

Exploitation of Phosphate and Iron in Algeria

In the face of new global changes, what is the exploitation of phosphate and iron in Algeria?  University professor, international expert Dr Abderrahmane MEBTOUL elaborates.


At the last Council of Ministers, debates turned to the recovery of iron and phosphate deposits appropriateness. This is not novelty; as a young advisor to the Minister and Industry and Energy between 1974/1977, we discussed such projects within the framework of many studies. Furthermore, since then, how have all these studies in both foreign exchange and Dinars with no conclusive results cost? 

The commercialisation of both iron and raw phosphate and derivatives depends as much on the strategy of a few global firms as on internal strategic management. Other factors like the cost of operations as well as the growth of the world economy play an essential role here. 

Exploitation of Phosphate and Iron in Algeria

The case of phosphate– As much as for iron, or energy-intensive cement units, the essential input is natural gas having to make arbitrage between the transfer price on the international market and the transfer to the units to generate a high added value. So the cost price of a tonne of ammonia at 4 Dollars/mmBTU would be 114 Euros per tonne, and on the contrary at 7 Dollars, we will have 200 Euros per tonne with a decrease in the last ten years of 10/15% depending on the geographical area. The price of derivatives is wildly fluctuating the urea fertiliser having been quoted between July and September at about 260 Euros per tonne. The increase in the world’s population and the demand for food are a determining factor in the growth of the phosphate market. Competition in the global market is very intense and relatively integrated, with the presence of limited vital players who get a significant share of global revenues. Key speakers include Russia’s Eurochem Group AG and PJSC PhosAgro; Canadian Agrium Inc. and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. Norwegian Yara International ASA; C.F. Industries Holdings Inc. and Mosaik Co.; India’s Coromandel International Ltd.; Moroccan giant OCP S.A. and Israel Chemicals Ltd. According to a U.S. geological survey on phosphate rock 2019, mining production (+ réserves) en 2018 thousand tonnes is distributed as U.S. réserves 27,000-production (1,000,000) – Algéria réserves 1,300- production (2,200,000); the Global Total réserves being 70,000 (70,000,000).  

The price per tonne of raw phosphate fluctuates; April 2020 $72.50 per tonne, in March 71.88, in April $70.75, in May at $72.90, and in June/July 2020 $75,000 per tonne, having been rated in October 2019 at $77.50 for sheet metal, in January 2020 at $72.50 per tonne. According to the World Bank, the general and medium-term trend in phosphate prices remains downward, and crude phosphate would trade in 2020 at around US$80-85 per metric ton, DAP around US$377.5 per metric ton and TSP at nearly US$300 per metric ton. According to the global rating agency, phosphate rock prices remained on average at $100 per tonne (at no charge onboard) in 2019/2020 and prices per tonne of phosphate rock (at no charge onboard) remained at $110 in the long run. Thus, if Algeria exports three million tonnes of raw phosphate annually at an average price of $100, a very optimistic assumption about world prices, at constant prices 2020, for 30 million Tonnes, it would get three billion Dollars and less than 2.5 billion Dollars at current prices. It must be said that in this sector, the expenses are very high (depreciation and salary expenses in particular) a minimum of 40%, thus making the net profit to about 1.8 billion Dollars for a price of $100 and less than 1.4 billion dollars for a price of $70. In the event of an association with an international partner, the net profit remaining for Algeria would be slightly more than 900/700 million dollars for both scenarios. We are far from profits in the field of hydrocarbons. To increase net profit, it is, therefore, necessary to embark on highly capital-intensive processing units with massive investments and medium-term profitability with the export of noble products, in the E.U., fertiliser/urea sold at more than 350 Euros per tonne in 2014. It was rated on an annual average in 2017 at 270 Euros per tonne. In April 2018, it was at 260 Dollars and at the beginning of May 220 to 250 Dollars per metric ton. In general, prices are very volatile, assuming perfect knowledge of the international stock market in order to avoid large losses in the event of low forecasts. Also, for a sizeable exportable quantity, this requires for Algeria, hefty investments and profitability in the medium term not until 2023/2025 if the project is in operation in 2020. Moreover, for a sizeable exportable quantity, this requires a partnership with international firms.

The Case of Iron –  For September 20, 2020, iron is priced at 90 Euros per tonne, stainless steel 1921 Euros per tonne, steel 4520 Euros per tonne, aluminium 1364 Euros per tonne, scrap 148 Euros per tonne, zinc 1817 Euros per tonne, copper 5289 Euros per tonne, lead 1509 Euros per tonne.

As proof, in April 2019, the price of stainless steel was at an average of 2,598 Euros per tonne, rose by 2.8% year-on-year with stabilisation in May 2020 to 2600 Euros per tonne, being in high demand on the world market, depending on its destination and its applications, classified in four categories. Aluminium was at 1,460 Euros per tonne, down 9.4% month-on-month and 20.9%. The price of lead was at $1,658 per tonne, down 4.4% on a month-on-month basis and 14.5% year-on-year. The price of zinc was at 1,903 Euros per tonne, stable over one month and down 35.1% year-on-year. Furthermore, in November 2019, the price of steel was at $5,400 per tonne, down 23.6% year-on-year, and in May 2020, 4,740 Euros due to the coronavirus outbreak. In April 2020, the price of iron stood at $85 per tonne, down 4.7% month-on-month and 9.6%. International agencies estimate the world’s iron reserves at between 2018/2019, 85,000 million tonnes (M.T.). Australia leads with 23,000 MT, followed by Russia 14,000 MT, Brazil 12,000 MT, China 7,200 MT, India 5,200 MT, United States 3,500 MT, Venezuela 2,400 MT, Ukraine 2,300 MT, Canada 2,300 MT and Sweden 2,200 MT, Algeria according to Algerian reserves data would be about 3000 Tonnes but with exploitable deposits, estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 MT. The main iron ore producing countries are Australia: 39.8% (with 879 MT)- Brazil: 19.8% (with 436 MT) – China: 8.6% (with 191 MT) – India: 7% (with 154 MT) – Russia: 4.6% (with 101 MT) – Ukraine: 3.3% (with 73 MT) – South Africa: 3,2% (with 69 MT) – Iran: 2.6% (with 57 T – Canada: 2.2% (with 49 MT) – United States: 2% (with 44 MT) – Sweden: 1.2% (with 27 MT) – Kazakhstan: 0.6% (with 13 MT) – Other countries: 5.1% (with 113 MT) (Source: Natural Resources Canada). Steel is a fundamental product to our way of life and is essential for economic growth, the 10 largest producing countries between 2017/2018 are: China: 831,728,000 Tonnes, Japan: 104,661,000 T India: 101,455,000 T United States: 81,612,000 T Russia: 71,491,000 T   South Korea: 71,030 T, Germany: 43,297,000 T Turkey: 37,524,000 T,  Brazil: 34,365,000 T and Italy: 24,068,000 T. In April  2020, copper was $5,058 per tonne, down 21.4% year-on-year. Evolution has not fundamentally changed since 2018. At a favourable price of $100 per tonne crude iron, for export of 30 million tonnes, we will have gross revenue of $3 billion. However, with this amount and more than 50% of expenses (the operating costs are very high), we are left with a net of the remaining $1.5 billion. This amount is to be shared with the foreign partner that in case of 30 million T, would be less than 800 million Dollars. This is because the exploitation of Gara Djebilet’s iron will require large investments in power plants, transmission networks, rational use of water, distribution networks that are lacking because of the remoteness of the sources of supply while avoiding the deterioration of the environment because the units are very polluting. Therefore, as with phosphate, only the transformation into noble products can provide greater added value for export. Because of the oligopolistic structure of the mining industry, at the global level, the only solution, if we want to export these noble products, is a win-win partnership with the reputable firms that control the segments of the international market that will not accept the restrictive 49/51% rule with bureaucratic burdens, with decisions taking place in real-time at the international trade level.

It is a question of avoiding the mistakes of the past by serious evaluations in terms of profitability and without a solid partnership, it is futile to penetrate the global market let alone the mining sector controlled by some international firms.

In the case of gold mines, let us avoid the unfortunate experience, with a massive liability, with the  Australian company, Gold Mining of Algeria (GMA)  where reserves of 173 tons have not increased one iota since 2007. All this raises the problem of mastery of strategic management. Like this drift of car assembly where we have now seen that it was a set for currency transfer traffic, going to predictable bankruptcies, after having perceived considerable financial and fiscal benefits. Like this utopia of dozens of cement complexes where we are currently witnessing the underuse of production capacity, the risk of plants cooling if storage is long-lasting, would increase the costs. The situation would result in unusable products for construction, except for those with points of support in Africa through their subsidiaries; otherwise, it would be difficult for other units to export, where, contrary to some discourse not based on any serious market research, market shares are already taken with many complexes being realised at the level of the Mediterranean basin. For this case, new construction methods worldwide are being saved from concrete round, cement and energy and as in Germany, is to use concrete to build roads often returning cheaper than imported bitumen. Algeria needs a strategic vision in which industrial policy must fit, in order to adapt to the new global sectors driven by perpetual innovation. Let us avoid utopias: Algeria will continue for many years to depend on hydrocarbons, with other raw materials making just an average profit to invest in democratic institutions, education, digital and energy transition. No country in the world that has relied solely on raw materials has succeeded in its development. Since the world is a world and this proves true with the fourth global economic revolution 2020/2030/2040 the prosperity of different civilisations has always rested on good governance, work and theoretical and applied research, a country without its elite being like a soulless body.  

ademmebtoul@gmail.com

Joining forces to save Red Sea coral reefs

Joining forces to save Red Sea coral reefs

Scientists from Israel and neighbouring Arab countries are joining forces to save Red Sea coral reefs from the threat of climate change.

The World Economic Forum post dated 14 June 2019 by Johnny Wood, Senior Writer, Formative Content, elaborates on this alliance against a common enemy that is threatening everyone’s very existence.

Is there however any need to say that the reasons for this alliance are above and beyond any other human-based justification(s).

A still image taken from underwater video footage shows corals and fish near barrels, as divers from Israel Nature and Parks Authority remove corals from objects which are part of industrial debris left by Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) after it scaled back its operations, in the Red Sea, near Katza beach in Eilat, Israel March 10, 2019.  Courtesy Omri Omessi/Israel Nature and Parks Authority/Handout via REUTERS
Political differences are being put aside for the sake of the Red Sea’s coral reefs.

Israel is joining forces with Arab states to save coral from climate change destruction

The alliance is the brainchild of Moaz Fine, an Israeli professor at Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University, who invited marine experts from the countries that border the Red Sea to collaborate at a new research centre. The team will comprise representatives from Israel, Eritrea, Jordan and Egypt, with scientists from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and Djibouti, which do not recognise Israel.

The countries have put aside political differences in the interests of protecting the natural world they share.

Coping with stress

Scientists, ecologists and oceanographers will come together at the new research centre, based in Bern, Switzerland, to study the impact of bleaching on the Red Sea reefs.

Bleaching occurs when coral reacts to changes in sea temperature, light conditions or nutrients. As global warming increases water temperatures, the delicate balance of reef ecosystems is disrupted, forcing coral to eject the algae that live and feed on them.

What is coral bleaching?

The stressed coral turns white and although it isn’t dead at this point, if the algae loss is prolonged it becomes vulnerable to disease and can eventually die.

But it’s not just coral that is affected when bleaching occurs, as algae forms the foundation of multiple food chains. When algae disappears, creatures higher up the food chain disappear too, turning bleached reefs into underwater deserts.

A climate of change

Although global warming is increasing the scale and frequency of mass bleaching events, coral in the Red Sea has suffered less damage than reefs in other parts of the world, such as in Hawaii and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The research team will investigate studies that suggest Northern Red Sea corals and those in the Gulf of Aqaba are able to withstand higher sea temperatures than in other places, which could help the fight to save the world’s reefs.

Have you read?


Bleaching events have already devastated large parts of the Great Barrier Reef, which is the world’s largest. Within the last five years, more than 30% of the vast reef system is either dead or is threatened with extinction due to rising sea temperatures. That’s an area equal to the size of Italy.

On a global scale, climate change, overfishing and destructive fishing, coastal development and ocean pollution are putting the very existence of our reefs at risk.

As the chart shows, more than half of the Earth’s reefs could be under threat by 2030, and without drastic action, most of our reefs could be gone by mid-century.


As well as hosting millions of plant and marine species, reefs often support employment and tourism in coastal communities. The Red Sea reefs attract diving enthusiasts from all over the world, attracted by colourful marine life and indigenous red and black corals. Their loss could have devastating environmental and economic consequences for current and future generations.

It is hoped that the new research centre will help develop more resilient corals, which will protect reefs and the livelihoods of people who depend on them.

What’s Driving this Biodiversity Crisis

What’s Driving this Biodiversity Crisis

The release of a major report looking at the state of nature presents a grim forecast for the future of humanity and the planet. Gitika Bhardwaj speaks to Sandra Diaz, co-chair of the report, about what’s driving this biodiversity crisis and how we can stop it before it’s too late.

Biodiversity Loss Is as Big a Crisis as Climate Change

By Gitika Bhardwaj, Digital Editor. @GitikaBhardwaj, LinkedIn, and Sandra Diaz, Co-Chair, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Report

13 May 2019

What’s Driving this Biodiversity Crisis
Elks gallop in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China. Elks have been released into the wild to improve biodiversity and protect the ecosystem of China’s largest freshwater lake. Photo: Getty Images.

Elks gallop in Nanchang, Jiangxi, China. Elks have been released into the wild to improve biodiversity and protect the ecosystem of China’s largest freshwater lake. Photo: Getty Images.

Last week, 150 experts from 50 countries released a major report demonstrating that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented, with up to 1 million species threatened with extinction, more than at any other time in human history. What is driving this global loss of biodiversity and how is it different from previous waves of extinctions experienced on Earth?

It is believed that the Earth has experienced five mass extinctions in its history but the crucial difference is that this time the threat is being caused by humans.

Our actions over the past 50 years have been the cause of record losses in species – tens to hundreds of times faster than the natural rate of extinction over the past 10 million years. Since 1970 alone, vertebrate populations have fallen by 40 per cent for land-based species, 84 per cent for freshwater species and 35 per cent for marine species.

This is happening due to a number of human activities: accelerating land-use change such as through farming and logging, overusing our seas and oceans such as through fishing, polluting our air, soil and water systems, hunting and also – voluntarily or involuntarily – transporting invasive species across distant regions. And this is happening on an unprecedented, worldwide scale.

Human activities have significantly altered around three-quarters of all land and two-thirds of all oceans on the planet according to the report. From insect pollination that provides us with food to mangrove swamps that shield us from storms, how much do humans depend on nature and how much will it impact us if it continues to degrade at the current rate?

One of the things the report highlights is the deep dependence of all humans on nature. We depend on nature to have a fulfilling life no matter where we live – often without realizing it. We depend on nature for our physical sustenance, cultural continuity and sense of identity.

Of course, nature also regulates a number of processes that we don’t even notice that are the basis of our economies and well-being such as clean water, protection from environmental hazards, the pollination of crops and the regulation of the climate. So we cannot live life as we know it, and as we enjoy it, without nature.

In the report, we take stock of the different kinds of nature’s contributions to people and we conclude that, with the exception of the production of food, energy and raw materials, all of the other contributions nature gives to people – about 14 out 18 kinds – are declining globally.

We have analysed a number of scenarios, and in all of them, there is a sharp decrease in nature and its capacity to regulate all of the Earth’s natural processes.

Furthermore, climate change is increasingly interacting with all of the other human-induced drivers of biodiversity loss in complex ways, so the future looks extremely grim for most people around the world, and much worse for some more than others in just the next 30-40 years.

This loss of biodiversity reportedly poses as serious, and urgent, a threat to humans as climate change but it has been less discussed. Why do you think this has been the case and, given increasing public concern after last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)and widespread public protests this year, do you believe this could change?

Yes definitely. The IPCC has traditionally gotten much more attention but that is because the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is much younger. This is the first global biodiversity assessment since 2005 to present the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services and what it means for humanity.

In contrast, the IPCC has decades of history, so we are following in their steps, inspired by them in the way we organize ourselves, and as a result, I think people are starting to listen.

We have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of public attention we received when the report was released last week. There are environmental movements that have been focused on climate change that now – only one week after the release of the report – have already announced that they will fight for nature as well as the climate because they have realized you cannot fight for one without fighting for the other.

What’s Driving this Biodiversity Crisis
Zebras in a dust storm in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo: Getty Images.

The report sheds light on how the issues of sustainable development, climate change and biodiversity are interrelated. How much, then, does tackling these issues require an integrated approach, for example, through international agreements including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Aichi Targets on biodiversity? Do these instruments need to be reformed in any way?

It’s totally dependent on an integrated approach. In the report, we go to great lengths to show how trying to fix human well-being for all, climate change and biodiversity in isolation is not going to work – you actually risk making the other two problems worse if you only try to fix one without considering the other two.

The three instruments you mention need to consider all three pillars – a good quality of life for all, the climate and biodiversity – in a far more integrated way than has ever been done before. These instruments need to talk to each other and make sure they consider each other when devising targets and implementing actions.

For example, in our assessment of the SDGs, we found that many of them do not explicitly mention biodiversity which is surprising given that you cannot achieve them without nature – the fabric of life.

What’s more, we need to focus much more on actions rather than on somewhat nebulous targets. There is a lot of synergy to be achieved in the three agreements and I think the people driving them are now much more prepared to listen than ever before.

The report has been approved by 132 governments, with France announcing that it now aims to make protecting biodiversity as important a priority as climate change, while the G7 countries – in addition to Chile, Fiji, Gabon, Mexico, Niger and Norway – have all announced their commitment to protecting biodiversity in response to the report too. What action would you like to see other governments take?   

In a nutshell, I would like to see governments put their money where their words are, so to speak. They all have expressed their concern about biodiversity loss – and most of the governments, if not all, have praised the findings in our report – but we now need action.

There are a number of fixes that can be done easily and quickly such as creating more protected areas, improving waste treatment systems, banning plastics, improving fishing gear and recycling more. This can all help enormously but only if done together because on their own it’s won’t be enough.

In order to have a chance of containing the destruction of our natural world, we need to do all of the above, in addition to tackling the root causes. That means addressing the activities driving land-use change and changes in our seas and oceans, climate change, pollution and the spread of invasive species.

Importantly, these root causes are all related to our lifestyles. That’s why we say, although the biodiversity crisis looks biological, the causes and solutions are deeply social.

So governments need to integrate biodiversity considerations across all sectors – not just better environmental policies but also better policies related to agriculture, infrastructure and trade. Biodiversity is not just a concern for respective ministers of the environment – it’s a concern for all ministers since it’s a concern for all sectors.

It’s all about putting nature and the public good first rather than the narrow, economic interests of a minority. It’s as simple – and as difficult – as that.

Further reading:

No longer Climate Change but an Environmental breakdown

No longer Climate Change but an Environmental breakdown

“To confront environmental catastrophe, we need urgent political transformation.” Professes Laurie Laybourn-Langton in this article where he maintains that:

It’s no longer climate change we’re living through. It’s environmental breakdown

Getty

In 1962, American playwright James Baldwin wrote that “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Today, his words should give us succour. We need more than ever to face the reality of environmental change.

I’m a researcher at IPPR, a think tank. We have been observing warnings of rapid, negative environmental change from the scientific community. So we decided to understand what that means for our work, for policy, and for politics.

In a report released today, we bring together the latest science on human-induced environmental change and seek to understand how politicians should respond. We conclude that when it comes to climate change, political debate has failed us in three different ways.

First, the term “climate change” no longer captures reality. The scale of environmental change that our earth is currently experiencing far exceeds it. We are depleting soil, killing species, damaging oceans. This is happening at a pace that is unprecedented in human history and in some cases millions, or even billions, of years.

We call this what it is: the age of environmental breakdown – a term that is a more proportionate description of the totality that the earth presently faces.

Second, political debate does not adequately recognise the consequences of environmental breakdown. This isn’t just about saving polar bears or the health impacts of air pollution, however crucial these issues are. It is about higher incidences of drought, an impaired ability to grow food, cities afflicted by extreme weather events. It is about the resulting consequences: famines, forced migration, economic crises – and war.

Our age of environmental breakdown has inaugurated a new “domain of risk,” unprecedented in its complexity and the potential severity of its impact.

Finally, current political debates skirt around the urgent need to transform our social and economic systems in response to environmental breakdown. Tinkering in the margins and providing quick fixes or short term measures will no longer suffice.

The consequences of environmental breakdown will fall hardest on the poorest, who are most vulnerable to its effects, and the least responsible for the problem.

The poorest half of the global population account for around 10 per cent of yearly global greenhouse gas emissions; half of global emissions are attributed to the richest 10 per cent of people. In the UK, per capita emissions of the wealthiest 10 per cent are up to five times higher than those of the bottom half.

The question of how we confront environmental breakdown, and who will feel its effects, intersects with inequalities of class, ethnicity and gender. Environmental breakdown isn’t just about climate change: it’s about justice.

To confront environmental breakdown, we need two overall transformations.

The first is to make to make societies sustainable and just, bringing human activity within environmentally sustainable limits while ensuring a decent quality of life is available to all. This sits at the heart of arguments for a Green New Deal. Programmes to halt environmental breakdown can and should include measures to improve social and economic outcomes, including providing good jobs for all, tackling structural discrimination, and expanding free education.

The second is to build societies that are prepared for environmental breakdown. Infrastructure, markets and political processes need to be resilient to environmental breakdown resulting from past and future activity. We don’t talk about this enough. While it may be scary to think about preparing for environmental catastrophe, it is fast becoming necessary. In particular, we need to develop a politics that runs counter to the nativist right, whose programme of anti-migrant and anti-environmental could win big as the seas rise and the food runs out.

Policies like the rollout of renewable energy and the successful efforts to stem the breakdown of the ozone layer have made progress towards realising these transformations. But most efforts have neither adequately focussed on all elements of environmental breakdown, nor sought to fundamentally transform key social and economic systems. Little attention has been given to ensuring societies are robust enough to face the increasingly severe consequences of breakdown.

Younger generations are now faced with a daunting twin task: preventing environmental breakdown and responding to its growing impact. IPPR will be exploring how to help younger generations find the energy that often eludes them as they confront a rapidly destabilising world.

The scale and pace of environmental change confirms that the only credible way forward is systemic transformation of societies and economies. To change the path that lies ahead, we must first admit that we are entering an age of unprecedented breakdown. Time is running out. 

Laurie Laybourn-Langton is a senior research fellow at IPPR. He tweets @Laurie_L_L

%d bloggers like this: