Biodiversity plays a key role in the survival of mankind. Human beings’ survival and development rely on natural ecosystems. Ecosystems directly provides various materials and products critical to the survival of human beings (food, water, oxygen and wood), but also, from a macro point of view, such ecosystem services as biodiversity balance, climate regulation, pollution reduction, water and soil conservation, wind prevention, sand fixation, disaster prevention, as well as aesthetic and cultural benefits.
The rapid decline of global biodiversity constitutes a serious threat to the survival of mankind. According to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2015, during the last 40 years, the global population of terrestrial vertebrates has declined by around 50%, and the freshwater ecosystem’s Living Planet Index has dropped by 76%. The IUCN Red List published in the same year also revealed the same trend of biodiversity loss. If the loss rate remains the same, the Living Planet Index based on wildlife population will plummet within 50 years and ecosystems will collapse. The crisis of rapid wildlife loss is somehow more serious than haze and smog, water pollution and climate change, since once a species is extinct, it cannot be brought back to life. The severity and urgency of the crisis has not been widely recognized.
Protected areas play key roles in biodiversity conservation. With the progress of urbanization and the development of industry and agriculture, natural ecosystems have been continuously damaged and degraded. When ecological degradation, especially wildlife depopulation, reaches a certain level, natural ecosystems could no longer function adequately and human beings might not be able to survive and develop on Earth. The minimal level is the eco-security bottom line. We must preserve minimal areas of sufficiently healthy natural ecosystems, sufficiently rich biodiversity and basic ecosystem services. Such areas can be called protected areas. The IUCN defined “protected area” in 2008 as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (IUCN Definition 2008). Protected areas include representative natural ecosystems, natural areas with important ecological service functions, natural areas where endangered wildlife and plants and important genetic resources abound, important corridor regions, and terrestrial land, terrestrial waters and marine waters where conserved objects such as significant natural heritage and natural scenery are located.
Global coverage of protected areas. In 2014, the global terrestrial and marine protected area coverages had reached 15% and 3% respectively (Protected Planet Report 2014, UNEP-WCMC, 2014). According to the Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the terrestrial and marine protected area coverage should reach 17% and 10% respectively by 2020. However, even existing natural protected areas are under the threat of uncontrolled development in their surrounding areas. Poisonous and hazardous agricultural chemicals, the massive introduction and monoculture of alien species with high economic value, and human disturbance caused by excessive tourism all threaten the survival of endangered species. Poaching, reclamation, road and dam development are also imposing negative impacts upon remaining protected areas.
Proportion of land or sea covered by protected areas around the world (Source: James E. M. Watson, Nigel Dudley, Daniel B. Segan & Marc Hockings. 2014. The performance and potential of protected areas. Nature 515, 67–73 (06 November 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13947)
There are already many successful international examples, such as the Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification. RA preserves ecosystems in and around the farms that meet the certification’s criteria, limits the use of agricultural chemicals and evaluates such indicators as waste management. Only products that pass the evaluations can be called “RA Certified Products”. Ecologists at the Smithonian Migratory Bird Center have also developed the Bird Friendly Certification Criteria. Besides, there are other mechanisms like Fair Trade, marine products and palm oil certification systems, which play important roles in biodiversity conservation.