10/10/2014 10:46 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST

Hitting biodiversity targets will require more work: Bob McDonald

The United Nations Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 was released this week, as we reach the halfway point towards biodiversity targets for 2020 that were agreed upon five years ago. The report shows mixed results.

In 2010, the world's nations gathered in Japan to agree on targets to preserve the biosphere of the planet, by reducing the influence of human activity – ranging from ocean acidification to rainforest destruction to climate change.

Now, at the halfway point, it looks like some targets will be met; others can be met if we put a little more effort into it; and some will not only fail to be achieved, but current trends are going in exactly the wrong direction.

On the good news side, awareness of the need to preserve biodiversity has improved around the world. People know about it. The goal of dedicating 17 per cent of the Earth as biological reserves is on track and most likely to be met, as more land and water is set aside for conservation.

However, improvements in some other areas have been canceled out by other factors. Resource extraction, which has become much more efficient in many cases, has been overwhelmed by a huge increase in consumption, mainly due to population growth.

Rainforest destruction in Brazil has slowed down considerably, but huge tracts of forests are being cleared in other countries, such as Indonesia.

Concerted effort

The report underlines the fact that preserving biodiversity cannot be done one goal at a time, or by any one country. Many of the goals — such as stopping the worldwide destruction of coral reefs — depend on reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere. That's what is causing ocean acidification, which erodes the shells of corals and mollusks.

The biosphere of the planet knows no borders and is connected to just about every system that makes the planet tick. It is literally the pulse of life.

The biggest culprit in the threat to biodiversity is agriculture. It seems we are destroying one kind of life for the sake of another: plants we like to eat. Of course, that doesn't mean we should abandon agriculture, but there are measures that can be taken, such as reducing chemicals used on the land; leaving wildlife corridors between fields; maintaining river banks to keep farm animals away from the water; reducing runoff; as well as preserving wetlands that act as natural water purifiers.

Similar guidelines could be applied to aquaculture.

Much to be done

Sadly, the goals that clearly will not be met by 2020 concern the loss of coral reefs, continued destruction of habitat, loss of species and the needs of women and local communities. So, there is still much to be done.

Canada signed onto this agreement with its own set of goals, with similar mixed results so far. New protected areas, both marine and on land, have been established, while resource extraction of fossil fuels continues to pollute. Carbon emissions are down in some provinces and up in others.

According to a report by Aboriginal Peoples, Canada’s overall goals are simply deficient.

The biggest glimmer of light in this global issue is the emergence of social media, which has had a tremendous effect on spreading the word about the need to take care of biodiversity. Education is always key to any large-scale project. Better communication also allows monitoring environments to track successes and identify problems before they degrade to a point of no return.

The report concludes with this:

"'Business as usual' in our present patterns of behaviour, consumption, production and economic incentives will not allow us to realize the vision of a world with ecosystems capable of meeting human needs into the future."

Preserving biodiversity is an investment in the future — not just the future of vanishing species, but our own future as well. We still have five years to get it right.