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biodiversity

From iconic species to iconic case studies

Iconic species – the panda, the tiger, the bald eagle, and even the small but spectacular corroboree frog – have been the vehicle for spreading the environment message.  That message can change and become more subtle. 

 Photo © Ryan Rayburn/World Bank

Mr Zoellick’s message at the launch of the Tiger Initiative in 2008 focused on integrating “environmental concerns ...  into the mainstream of development and operational plans”.   His statement in relation to the National Geographic’s “Vanishing Icons” photo exhibit (in the World Bank headquarter's atrium in DC) advanced the discussion to the tiger’s “largely untapped potential to spur balanced development”.  The conditions and actions needed to improve the habitat of the tiger are closely related to those needed to improve the livelihoods of local communities and vice versa.

Some plant communities are emerging as iconic ecosystems.  The mangroves are the best example.  Their role as a habitat and breeding ground for so many species, as a resource for local people and in coastal protection are listed again and again.  They feature in the recent WRI publication “Banking on Nature’s Assets” which forcefully makes the case that Multilateral Development Banks can strengthen development by using ecosystem services and describes some of the case studies and tools we have to help do this.

But we are also seeing the emergence of “iconic case studies” and this is a concern to me. 

Celebrating Earth Day and biodiversity

Sameer Vasta's picture

April 21, 2010 - Washington, D.C. 2010 Global Tiger Initiative event with World Bank Group President Robert Zoellick.Photo: © Ryan Rayburn/World Bank

Happy Earth Day!

In advance of the Spring Meetings and just in time for Earth Day, the Bank kicked off its support for International Year of Biodiversity on Wednesday with a new edition of its flagship magazine, Environment Matters.

The magazine, "Banking on Biodiversity," was launched Wednesday by President Zoellick at a special event at the Bank's headquarters in Washingont DC to draw attention to the plight of the wild tiger, a potent symbol of the threat to biodiversity worldwide.

"We are using the appeal of these charismatic big cats as a clarion call," said President Zoellick, "to draw attention to the need to protect biodiversity and to remind people of the wildlife and wilderness we stand to lose if we do not balance conservation and economic development."

Yet-to-be-released online mapping tool could make monitoring deforestation easy as Google

James I Davison's picture

We’ve written before about a climate-related effort in developing countries known as REDD – or Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation. So one of the outcomes during last month’s U.N. climate conference that I found particularly interesting was an announcement from Google.org. During the conference in Copenhagen, the search giant's philanthropic arm introduced the prototype for an online application that will allow monitoring of forests around the planet.

Apparently, some believed that the overall topic of REDD may have been one of the few bright spots during the two-week conference. To me, it seems like this forthcoming online monitoring tool is no exception – particularly because Google products are often innovative, easy to use and reliable.

The announcement generated quite bit of media buzz, and Google.org’s press release has a nice explanation of why the online application, likely available to the public some time this year, might be so significant:

Traditional forest monitoring is complex and expensive, requiring access to large amounts of satellite data, lots of hard drives to hold the data, lots of computers to process the data, and lots of time while you wait for various computations to finish. … Google supplies data, storage, and computing muscle. As a result, you can visualize forest change in fractions of a second over the web, instead of the minutes or hours that traditional offline systems require for such analysis.

 

What does a video about a desert region of China have to do with Niger?

Tony Whitten's picture

A YouTube map that shows where people are when they view the videos. That the video might be of interest to a dry country like Niger – where herding of goats and other livestock is so important – is not so surprising.

A colleague of mine recently sent a link to a group of us showing some photos taken in Inner Mongolia, China, showing the land degradation being suffered there and its impacts.  One of the photos (#16) shows a twisted and broken tree trunk surrounded by sand on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The caption says that the trees were “killed by the moving sands.” I have a different take on it.

The picture shows what is probably a Euphrates Poplar, and I would suggest that the trees were probably killed by its surface roots becoming roasted after herds of goats and other livestock ate the trees' fallen leaves. These leaves would normally act as a natural insulation layer and mulch, and over time quite a number of plants grow in the shade and protection.  With the trees steadily roasted, so the whole area degrades and the sand blows in.  You can see one of the World Bank’s senior agriculturalists, Rick Chisholm, explaining this in the first of my two YouTube videos on Lake Aibi in northwest, Xinjiang, China.  (Go straight to 8m 30s on the time line to see the specific segment).

How close to the edge?

Nicola Cenacchi's picture
How close to the edge?
   Photo © iStockphoto.com

In September, a diverse group of scientists—among them the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen—presented in the journal Nature a new framework to analyze sustainable development at a global scale. This framework recognizes that humans have now become the main driver of global environmental change, and that our impact on the planet is growing stronger.

We are affecting every one of the major natural processes which are important for our own welfare, wrecking the ability of earth systems to regulate themselves, and buffer disturbances. In fact, our actions may be shifting earth processes to a completely new state that is a far cry from the extraordinarily stable conditions (in the entire history of planet earth) that allowed the development of human civilization since 10,000 BC. In the words of Paul Crutzen and colleagues, we have entered a new geologic era, the “Anthropocene”.

Our pressure on the planet appears more and more troubling as our understanding of earth processes improves. There is increasing evidence that many earth systems and biophysical phenomena do not change in a linear fashion, but rather experience abrupt changes when thresholds are crossed.

Online mapping tool gives view of forests in developing countries

James I Davison's picture

In July, biodiversity specialist and blogger Tony Whitten wrote a post about not abandoning old-fashioned conservation techniques as an important method of taking positive action on climate change. One of the important old-school mitigation methods, he wrote, lies in protecting the world’s forests through reforestation and avoiding further deforestation.

Accordingly, a big part of the ongoing climate change discussion includes reducing emissions through deforestation and degradation (known as REDD). And the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization now offers a tool to help monitor forests in developing countries. Using satellite imagery and other data, the Global Forest Resources Assessment Portal displays the information on an interactive map.


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