Canadian Consulting Engineer

Invasive species causing havoc, says U.N.

November 16, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

With the upcoming global climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December, there is dou...

With the upcoming global climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December, there is doubt emerging that nations will craft an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. However, United Nations officials are hoping that nations will agree to firmer action to strengthen ecosystems, and are citing the devastation caused by the pine beetle in B.C.’s forests as a warning and an incentive.

The Montreal-based UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was set up in 1993 as a legally binding agreement between 187 countries. It considers the combined effects of climate change and invasive species to be the main drivers of the loss of biodiversity across the planet.

In a release dated November 11, the UN’s CBD noted that invasive species are estimated to cause $1.4 trillion annually in damage.

“For the mountain pine beetle,” said the release, “mild winter temperatures have led to increased survival, culminating in the largest epidemic in the history of the Canadian province of British Columbia. In recent years the beetle has also moved to higher latitudes, resulting in the infestation of an estimated 13 million hectares of pine forests, and forecasts predict that it will kill up to 80% of the pine volume in British Columbia by 2015.” As the trees die, they give off carbon dioxide, boosting greenhouse gas emissions and nullifying their carbon sink effect.

The U.N. also noted the damage done by climate change combined with invasive species in other areas of the world. In West Africa, for example, where the flow in major rivers has decreased by 40-60%, the water hyacinth is proliferating, clogging numerous lakes and rivers and threatening the survival of fish.

The tamarisk plant in the Western U.S. and North Africa is an aggressive colonizer because it can survive in parched and saline soils for extended periods, and with a decline in precipitation in these areas, the shrub digs its roots deeper and robs other plants of water.

In response to these threats, groups such as the Global Invasive Species Program (GISP) an international partnership of scientists, NGOs and policymakers that assists the U.N.’s environmental programs, will be promoting “the concept of ecosystem-based adaptation, which aims to strengthen ecosystems against climate change by making them as healthy as possible.”

Stas Burgiel, policy director at GISP, said about the upcoming meeting: “We’ve started to get a hand on what the potential impacts and dynamics might be, but in terms of translating that into policy guidance for governments, I think that’s where we still need quite a bit more work.”



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