Government failures bring despair while traditional knowledge breeds hope in Nagoya

I’m uncertain whether to hope or despair at what I’m seeing in Nagoya.  I’m here representing the City of Sydney at the 10th conference of the parties to the United Nations Biodiversity Convention and things currently aren’t looking too positive.

A Japanese satoyama landscape, with agricultural fields in the foreground and a woodland pocket behind.

Since the convention was signed up to in 2002 there as been no reduction in biodiversity loss, despite the ambitious and supposedly binding targets set for 2010.  The conference will make new targets for 2020 but my hopes aren’t high for these being both meaningful and achievable.  This pessimism is further reinforced by the fact that, as with last years Copenhagen climate change talks, the big polluters are doing all they can to make sure they can maintain business as usual by arguing for meaningless offsets that will allow them to keep destroying.

Outside of the conference however I am finding some reasons to think positive.  The satoyama landscapes in particular are a great example of practical biodiversity conservation.  A centuries old concept, satoyamas are areas throughout rural Japan where natural ecosystems intermingle with human land uses such as agricultural fields and plantations, allowing for movement of wildlife through these modified environments and helping to maintain biodiversity in areas that would otherwise contain very little of it.  Half of the endangered species on Japan’s ‘red list’ can currently be found within satoyamas.

In recent decades the satoyama concept of merging natural with modified landscapes has been applied to more urban land uses in Japan, such as golf courses, with some quite positive effects on biodiversity.  I will certainly be interested in investigating the possibilities of applying the lessons of the satoyama to parks, community gardens and backyards in Sydney when I return home.

As with so many other global problems, it seems that the real action to tackle biodiversity loss is being taken not by national governments but by local communities and councils.  The big picture may be depressing but at a smaller scale there are more and more ways appearing to allow us all to do our bit to help our planet.

Clichés about clouds and silver linings may fit well here.

Image by Namazu-tron, use authorised under creative commons.


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