Our growing need for nature

Guest post by Yang Weihe, EnviroFriends Institute of Environmental Science and Technology

Humans are now more dependent on ecosystem services and biodiversity than ever, a Chinese researcher pointed out in a recent report. In the study published in PLoS ONE review late last year, Guo Zhongwei, associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Zoology, in collaboration with other experts, highlights that, from 1980 to 2005, economic development actually made humans more dependent on ecosystem services and biodiversity. This dependence is particularly evident in countries with biodiversity hotspots and is projected to increase between 2005 and 2020.

According to the report, between 1980 and 2005, global roundwood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investment grew by 17.6%, 116.2% and 121.2%, respectively, while GDP increased by 106%. Roundwood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investment were positively correlated with annual GDP. Among 92 biodiversity hotspot countries, the rate of growth within the four above-mentioned sectors was higher in the 81 developing nations than in the 11 industrialised nations. The annual growth rates of per capita hydropower and per capita tourism investment were higher in hotspot countries (5.3% and 6.1%) than in non-hotspot countries (3.5% and 4.3%); however, the annual growth rate of per capita roundwood production in hotspot countries (1%) was lower than in non-hotspot countries (1.4%).

These results show that, from 1980 to 2005, in the 152 countries analysed, roundwood production, hydroelectricity generation and tourism investments grew following economic growth. Hotspot countries benefited from ecosystem services more than non-hotspot countries. It’s possible to discern increased dependence in other sectors too: for example, from 1980 to 2005, the average growth rate of fishery production was 211.9% in developing countries and 17.6% in industrialised countries. Furthermore, global carbon-dioxide emissions are projected to increase by 49.6% between 2005 and 2020, no doubt increasing demand for the ecosystem service of gas regulation.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, launched by United Nations in 2001, points out that approximately 60% of ecosystem services are rapidly being degraded, including wood, fresh water and the regulation of gas and climate among many others. Moreover, from 1990 to 2005, the world’s total forest area decreased by 3.1%, while global GDP increased by about 32%. Economic growth gradually reduced its impact on deforestation.

According to the author, the dependence of biodiversity hotspot countries on ecosystem services shows that the latter are closely related to biodiversity. Consequently, in those areas where biodiversity and ecosystems are protected, humans can enjoy more services. A full understanding of the connections between ecosystems and human wellbeing will encourage humans to pay more attention to biodiversity. In light of these considerations, the author suggests that in formulating and implementing their policies for both economic development and environmental protection, every country should carefully consider the increased dependence of humans on ecosystem services along with economic development.