Land degradation is now critical, warns IPBES, the organisation bringing the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity into practice. Luke’s Senior Scientist Tiina M. Nieminen is one of the experts who collected the studies and knowledge for the latest cross-section of our planet.
Tiina M. Nieminen belongs to the science team of the latest IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) report on land degradation and restoration.
According to IPBES, less than a quarter of the area of the Earth has been saved from significant human influence. By 2050, the area may be less than 10% and even 46% of biodiversity lost.
In IPBES work, Nieminen has especially concentrated on the problems of commercial forests.
“Clearing of the forests for agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Commercial forest management deteriorates the diversity of the pristine forests, but on the other hand, forest management can improve the situation in the areas, where the land has suffered the most, where erosion and desertification are enforced by the climate change. However, when afforesting, we have to know what we are doing,” Nieminen says.
Native species the key in fighting land degradation
In the recent decades, the consequences of deforestation and biodiversity loss have been widely understood and various projects of reforestation and rewilding have spread to fight back the shrinking of the green cover of the Earth.
“This is where knowledge plays the most important part. We have made many mistakes in environmental restoration, mainly because we want fast results. In many areas, the fastest spreading plants have been chosen and they have become invasive species, which destroy native vegetation. Therefore, even afforestation can end up in more land degradation,” Nieminen points out.
One of the messages of the IPBES land degradation and restoration assessment is, that native species should always be used in environmental restoration.
“Aiming at fast results too often results in unsustainable situations in the long run. Instead, we should look for a balance.”
650 experts, five reports
Tiina M. Nieminen started her work at IPBES in 2015. IPBES currently has 129 member states. In the recent IPBES-6 Plenary, five assessments were published: four of them concentrate on regional biodiversity and the thematic report on land degradation and restoration.
“There were one hundred experts working for Land degradation and restoration assessment, representing 45 countries. It is important that we get representatives from all regions.”
The ultimate causes of biodiversity loss lie in the developed countries and their growing consumption. Globalisation of the economy makes it difficult for us to see the connection between consumer choices and loss of nature. Destitution may enforce the process of biodiversity loss, especially in very barren environments, however, poverty is seldom its primary cause.
“IPBES reporting is voluntary work and the developing countries have less resources to support their representatives. The dominant cultures also tend to get their voice heard. We aim at equality, nevertheless, we immediately run at inequality,” Nieminen notes.
Engaging the indigenous
According to IPBES, land degradation and biodiversity loss threaten the well-being of three billion people and may cause conflicts and refugee crises in dry areas, inhabited by four billion people. Cultural identities and traditional skills of farming and other means of livelihood may be lost.
Even for an experienced scientist, diving into global problems and working towards the report has been an educating process.
“We tend to look at problems through the glasses of our own country and field of science. When drafting IPBES reports, there are sociologists, anthropologists, ecologists and more, from all over the globe. To get forward, we need to learn to interact, listen and learn from each other. That is what implementing the biodiversity agreement is about,” Nieminen recalls the multidiscipline and multilingual process.
IPBES does not settle for the multicultural, but aims to include the indigenous and local knowledge in the process.
“We aim to engage the indigenous people. IPBES and UNESCO are working on participatory mechanisms. Part of the knowledge can be taken through anthropology and sociology studies, which we can refer to, but we often have a situation where indigenous knowledge has not been written. Then, the cultural equality will not be reached and the situation is not easy to solve.”
However, in the latest report, indigenous observers especially mentioned chapters they are satisfied with.
Sharing and learning
IPBES report encourages decision makers to consider the benefits of biodiversity in all land-use. The report itself brings the best available knowledge available and underlines that to stop the biodiversity loss and to tackle the biggest threats, fast actions are needed.
“From my point of view, I would emphasise the participatory processes to enforce equality and democracy. That makes the sustainable development possible. Engaging minorities in decision making, activating citizens and improving equality between regions are themes that even the EU should do better. Furthermore, ensuring access to local nature to all is part of equality,” Nieminen says.
Nieminen encourages scientists to take part in IPBES work and disseminate Finnish high quality studies on biodiversity, sustainable land-use, agriculture and forestry.
“One report can’t include all knowledge about all the problems of this world. To me, it has been rewarding to notice that the work in IPBES is not in vain, even only part of what we wrote will be published in the report. In the process, I shared my knowledge with a Peruvian scientist and I am sure he will spread it very efficiently. And all that I learned, I will bring to my community in Luke.”
Text: Marjatta Sihvonen