Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are the foundation for our life on this planet. That is why their rapid destruction is cause for real concern. Forests cover 30.7 percent of the Earth’s surface and, in addition to providing food security and shelter, they are key to combating climate change, protecting biodiversity and the homes of the indigenous population. At the current time, 13 million hectares of forests are being lost every year while the persistent degradation of drylands has led to the desertification of 3.6 billion hectares. Even though up to 15 percent of forest areas are currently under protection, biodiversity is still at risk. Today, more than half of the planet’s ecosystems are either worse off than they were 50 years ago or not being sustainably managed. Overexploitation in the shape of intensive farming and the effects of climate change are the main culprits in biodiversity loss and wholesale destruction, as is the case with half of all rainforests. Globally, two billion hectares of land are considered degraded. Decimating terrestrial ecosystems has far-reaching consequences: Of the world’s roughly five million animal species, between 11,000 and 58,000 become extinct each year due to habitat loss, among other factors. What’s more, land degradation directly impinges on the lives of some 3.2 billion people.
Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change – pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the fight against poverty. Indigenous peoples with traditional ways of life are equally hard hit. Additionally, global agriculture and consequently our food supply is also under threat: Despite losing one third of fertile land to pollution, erosion or desertification in the last 40 years, the world needs to increase yields by about 50 percent to feed the growing global population by 2050. But all hope is not yet lost. Humanity has recognized the extent of the threat to biodiversity and its devastating consequences. That is why more and more terrestrial ecosystems are under protection, being restored and sustainably managed. Increasing numbers of projects around the world support reforestation as well as species and ecosystem conservation.
Almost half of Germany’s land is under cultivation. The drive to raise productivity, coupled with increasingly intensive farming, has not left the environment unscathed. Every day in Germany, a piece of countryside the size of about 90 football fields is paved over to create traffic infrastructure and housing developments. Soil disturbed by heavy machinery is susceptible to erosion and a loss of fertility. Agricultural fertilizers pose a threat to soil and groundwater while farming diminishes biodiversity by reducing animals’ food sources and habitats.
Collapsing insect populations are a worrying example of biodiversity loss and currently a source of intense debate in Germany. Insect researchers have noticed declines in 96 percent of species. This not only has dire consequences for agriculture, as insect numbers in many places are already insufficient to pollinate fields naturally, but also throws entire ecosystems out of balance. Since insects are their food source, the number of birds has also fallen by 40 percent.
In 2019, the German government spent over EUR 745 million on conserving global ecosystems and is advocating for biodiversity and species protection worldwide. These drives include the Federal Cabinet’s Action Program for Insect Conservation that aims to halt the die-off and protect biodiversity as well as the Nature Conservation Initiative 2020, which outlines important spheres of activity and measures. More good news comes from the Federal Forest Inventory, which has recorded an improvement in the health of German forests. By protecting the world’s forests, we are also in a position to strengthen natural resource management and increase land productivity. Various efforts are being made to manage forests and combat desertification. These include the current enactment of two international agreements to promote the equitable use of resources. What’s more, financial investment is being directed into promoting biodiversity.