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Saving the world’s biodiversity

Like the buffalo which was almost hunted to extinction here, and the passenger pigeon, which was, the meadow lark two centuries ago barely escaped the same fate in Germany.
This songbird, served as a culinary specialty in wealthy homes and restaurants in and around Leipzig, was captured there by the hundreds of thousands during summer months, the practice being finally forbidden by the Prussian king, in 1876. Another, later imperial decree, of 1915, on view in the history museum in the town of Koepenick would place under “full protection” more than 100 plants in Saxony.
Without much media notice here, more than 90 countries voted agreement in South Korea, this month, to create a scientific panel to keep watch on the planet’s biological diversity, the vast array of animals and plants that make up the living world.
Organized under the environmental arm of the United Nations, it seeks to broaden public awareness about status or endangerment of these and their critical importance to humankind.
Fish and fresh water, timber and game, medicines and pollination of crops, fibers and a stable climate are among services which healthy ecosystems provide, as Emma Morris and Hans Schuh note in respective announcements of the agreement in “Nature” and “Zeit.” Assessing the status of biodiversity, documenting habitat destruction globally, and analyzing the implications of species loss are among the panel’s official tasks. Comprehensive and credible information of this kind, it is hoped, will help spur effective action, by governments and citizens alike, to reverse the dangerous trends in species extinction and their human-made causes.
The panel’s name — Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)–suggests the enormity and difficulty of its work. Modeled on the independent scientific body which monitors climate change, the task of the IPBES may be even more complex. While many climate related factors are known, for instance, the majority of plant and animal species remain yet to be identified. As well, climate acts globally and the financial toll from weather disasters it spawns is readily quantified. Living species, however, die out locally–the last passenger pigeon in the Cincinnati zoo in 1914–and for countless numbers of these the human economic system gives now no measured value at all.
The 1992 international treaty known as Convention on Biological Diversity provides for planning strategies, by all nations, to conserve and sustainably use their fauna and flora. Along with Iraq, Andorra and Somalia the United States then, under the elder President Bush, chose not to sign or implement the treaty. Its participation in the new international effort to protect the world’s living-species heritage is to the great credit of the current, Obama administration.
For President Theodore Roosevelt, the meadow lark was the most favored of all birds, its song rapturously described in various of his writings. For the welfare of future human children, as for the fellow species with which we share the planet, one may wish the work of the IPBES to be crowned with great success.