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Biodiversity's future

Irene Quaile
September 16, 2014

Bees, beans, biodiversity - Bonn. Germany's former capital showcases its role as the UN city and environment capital of Europe this week with an international conference on biodiversity.


This summer, the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES, opened in Bonn. For its executive secretary Anne Larigauderie, the organization is the biodiversity equivalent of the world climate panel, the IPCC.

Working along the same lines, IPBES aims to collect scientific evidence on what's happening to the variety of life forms on the planet and to present it to the policymakers who can implement measures to protect the biodiversity.

Dr. Anne Larigauderie
Larigauderie values Bonn's own diversityImage: IPBES

Options for the future

Larigauderie is gearing up for a three-day conference which will bring 250 international scientists and experts to Bonn. Her message to them is simple: "Biodiversity holds our future. Biodiversity holds solutions to many issues the world currently has and will have in the future. By reducing this portfolio, we reduce our options for the future. Therefore, we need to take care of this diversity, so that we keep all our options open."

Larigauderie explains this is crucial to our future food security: "Biodiversity aids us for instance in the challenge of finding varieties of crops that may help us adapt to climate change. Already some of our crops are facing heat waves which they cannot cope with."

The genetic diversity of food crops has its own special advocate – the Global Crop Diversity Trust. It's world-famous for its Arctic seed vault on the Norwegian Arctic island of Svalbard. But its new headquarters are based – you've guessed it – in Bonn. In the same building, which has been transformed into the UN-campus of the place novelist John Le Carré once dubbed the "small town in Germany."

Bonn Skyline UN-Campus Langer Eugen, Post Tower, World Conference Center
Bonn has re-invented itself as UN and environment hub.Image: imago

From German capital to UN city

Larigauderie says Bonn is well placed to host the world's biodiversity centre. It's a rich city, she says, rich, that is, in terms of scientific expertise and also in terms of UN-related organizations involved in translating scientific knowledge into political practice.

The establishment of the biodiversity hub was supported at the highest level. Chancellor Angela Merkel assured the international community that Germany would give the maximum support to the fledging organization. "There really is that interest in Germany - and the political and financial will that goes with it," says Larigauderie.

The conference is the first organized by BION, a new network linking the wide diversity of organizations in the region dealing with biodiversity in theory and practice.

Professor Maximilian Weigend, Director of Bonn's Botanical Gardens is the BION spokesperson says the focus should be on the bigger picture. "We have to succeed in bringing the conservation of our biodiversity, our human development and social progress into harmony with each other in the medium and in the long term," says Weigend, in the run-up to the network's inaugural conference called "Biodiversity Today for Tomorrow"

Economizing on nature's gifts

In today's world, Larigauderie identifies two main threats to the diversity of life: unsustainable fishing and unsustainable land use. They are compounded by pollution, invasive species and a changing climate.

Among the international speakers in Bonn this week is Alberto Acosta, Ecuadorian economist, who's in favor of re-thinking our economic models to avoid the over-exploitation of nature.

Larigauderie agrees there is a need for a change in the way we do business and stresses that this does not mean going back to the Stone Age: "It means doing things in a more careful manner. There are things we can do that tackle the problem of biodiversity and many other problems at the same time, including climate change. It's about recycling things, being much less wasteful, increasing the quality of our food," she says.

Global Seed Vault
The Global Seed Vault has close relations to BonnImage: DW/I.Quaile

A more modest lifestyle in the industrialized world could go a long way towards accommodating the needs of a larger population while reducing the loss of biodiversity, according to the IPBES expert.

Eating less meat and using bicycles and public transport could reduce our ecological footprint tremendously, she says. She is impressed by the number of people doing that in Bonn. Mind you, she concludes, tongue-in-cheek, we could reduce the number of big cars driving around the city. Here's hoping we won't see those on the car park at the BION meeting.

The conference takes place in Bonn from September 17th to 19th.

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