UNU-IAS International Symposium underscores the link between Biodiversity and Sustainability

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By Christmas de Guzman

Biodiversity provides essential ecosystem services that enhance human well-being around the globe and its conservation is sine qua non for human survival. Biodiversity conservation, directly and indirectly, contributes to attaining the objectives set out by the United Nations’ 2030 global agenda through benefits like climate mitigation, disaster risk reduction, food provision, and many others. Rapid population and economic growth are, however, posing unprecedented threats to the sustainability of the world’s biodiversity and its ecosystem services.

Attended by various experts, researchers, students and other representatives from the academic and development sectors, an international symposium with the theme “Biodiversity and Sustainability: Linking People and Nature” was held last 12 March at the United Nations University (UNU) U Thant International Conference Hall.

Co-organized by the UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) and the Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science (IR3S) at the University of Tokyo, the symposium was opened with a welcome remark by Dr. David Malone, rector of the UNU, who pointed out Japan as a country presents this connection between traditional culture and biodiversity.

After the welcome remarks, one of the symposium’s highlight was a keynote remark delivered by Dr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, former vice-rector of the UNU and present director of the IR3S. He emphasized the importance of human society in harmony with nature and talked about successful cases in Japan that practice the concept of integrating ecosystem services and biodiversity in sustaining socio-ecological production landscapes and seascape (SEPLS). Such examples of SEPLS include the Noto’s Satoyama and Satoumi and the Sado Satoyama which is popular in producing Crested Ibis-friendly rice and is recognized as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Japan Satoyama and Satoumi Assessment (JSSA) defined Satoyama landscapes as “dynamic mosaics of managed socio-ecological systems producing a bundle of ecosystem services for human well-being,” underscores Dr. Takeuchi.

Another keynote speaker was Dr. Gretchen C. Daily, from Stanford University who stressed the concept of co-developing knowledge and co-developing practical tools towards biodiversity and sustainability. She introduced her team’s work which is The Natural Capital Project – a partnership that develops practical tools and approaches to account for nature’s contributions to society, so that leaders of countries, companies, communities, and organizations worldwide can make smarter decisions for a more sustainable future. Also, she emphasized the benefits of harmonizing agriculture, livelihoods, and biodiversity through diversified agriculture since this kind of agricultural systems merits much more conservation attention. At the ending of her speech, she cited one case study on how nature experience decreases the possibility of mental illness (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.abstract) and that means that taking into consideration other properties of nature such as the intangible values (e.g., intrinsic, bequest, and aesthetic values) is as important as that of the tangible ones.

As the last keynote speaker, Dr. Mai Trong Nhuan from Vietnam National University underscored lessons learned from Vietnam in pursuing sustainability science development for a low-carbon society in harmony with nature. He shared a possible future approach “3E+1 Nexus Approach” for sustainable development, which is tailor-fitted to Vietnam, and cited some solutions towards its effective implementation. Based on the Japanese concept of the Satoyama, the approach will include key concepts such as that related to biodiversity, food security, resilience, and safe and environment-friendly energy. In addition, it should target additional challenges related environmental migration (non-traditional security) and must address the issues of (1) migration due to declined livelihoods, degraded ecosystem, and environment; (2) policy solutions for population stabilization; and (3) development cooperation between border areas with Laos.

A panel discussion immediately followed and these topics of discussions ensued: (1) the need for high-quality scientific studies to help decision-makers make informed policies for biodiversity conservation and sustainability; (2) the need to further the concept of “sustainability” development; (3) the challenge of assigning values to the services of nature or the ecosystems; and (4) the need for holistic approaches to complex problems such as that of biodiversity conservation and sustainability provided that ecosystems, which support the production of ecosystem services, have self-organizing processes in complex systems as an aspect of resilience.

The symposium ended with a closing remark from Dr. Takeuchi citing his appreciation of the discussions and emphasizing that ecosystem services, although becoming increasingly important, are often undervalued.