IPBES: 50,000 wild species are key to sustainability goals

11 Juli 2022

Wild species are a cornerstone in the lives of billions of people worldwide, but this reliance has been largely overlooked in terms of helping the world meet its sustainability targets. A new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) lays out how support for indigenous practices can support sustainable uses.

“The sustainable use of wild species is central to the identity and existence of many indigenous peoples and local communities,” says Dr. Marla Emery, a co-chair of the IPBES assessment. “These practices and cultures are diverse, but there are common values including the obligation to engage nature with respect, reciprocate for what is taken, avoid waste, manage harvests and ensure the fair and equitable distribution of benefits from wild species for community well-being.”

Indigenous communities already manage some 38 million square kilometers of land in 87 countries, overlapping with roughly 40% of land conservation areas key to biodiversity protection. Deforestation rates, as an example of this protective effect, are generally lower where land use is managed by indigenous peoples.

“The long history of sustainable uses of wild species in these areas has played a role in maintaining and increasing local levels of biodiversity while supporting indigenous peoples well-being and livelihoods,” the report said, in its summary for policymakers.

About 10,000 wild species, including fish, are used for food, with 70% of those living in poverty relying on wild species in some capacity.  For one in five people on the planet, that means that plants—along with algae and fungi—are used for food.

But there are 50,000 wild species in total that are used for food, energy, medicine, and other uses. They include cultural and spiritual practices as well, often in the developed world rather than far-off places. The Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, in the United States, is one example. The tribal name itself means “wild rice people,” and northern wild rice (Zizania palustris L.) is central to their diet, as well as ritual ceremonies and festivals.

“The regular use of wild species is extremely important not only in the Global South,” says Emery. “From the fish that we eat, to medicines, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, wild species’ use is much more prevalent than most people realize.”

That’s what makes protecting species so critical in the fight against climate change. Many are vulnerable to its impacts. Intense wildfires and drought, for example, impact forests and both human logging activities and the animal populations that rely on the forest for habitat. An estimated 12% of wild tree species are already threatened by unsustainable logging.

A lack of sustainable practices can drive migration as well as conflict, the report said. In the face of those risks, though, the advances in protecting wild species can help to achieve many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The authors warn that ambitious goals are necessary to effect transformative change, but they’re not enough. Policies that are fit for purpose, focused on equity and inclusion and crafted with cultural literacy about the specific contexts in which they are applied, have the best chance of success.

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