Today members of Congress from both parties introduced legislation—the Global Conservation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4959)—that for the first time places the strategic and diplomatic resources of the U.S. government behind efforts to address extinction and natural resource depletion worldwide.
With the accelerating destruction of forests, reefs and other natural ecosystems, scientists say half of all species could be driven to the brink of extinction by the end of the century. And experts are tracking trends showing people around the world losing sources of fresh water, fuelwood, medicines and other products from nature.
“By working with nations and partners around the world we can confront conservation challenges that have a direct impact on U.S. security and economic interests,” said Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-MO), the bill's lead Democratic sponsor. “If we tackle this problem together, we can build economic strength here and around the globe, adding more stability to the world.”
Even as six federal agencies conduct conservation programs around the globe, the U.S. government still lacks a coordinated, overarching strategy for stopping the environmental destruction. The Global Conservation Act would mandate such a strategy. Under the coordination of the White House, the bill requires that agencies come up with a plan to:
The bill identifies a coordinator in the executive branch to ensure action and encourages the administration to secure additional funding and support for a global conservation strategy from other countries—including European nations, Japan, China, and India. It is cosponsored by Representatives Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Norman Dicks (D-WA), James Moran (D-VA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Judy Biggert (R-IL), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
“The Global Conservation Act of 2010 presents a wonderful opportunity for genuine and effective bipartisan cooperation on prudent, cost-effective environmental stewardship. I am proud to join in this worthy effort to help protect some of our world's most fragile and magnificent ecosystems," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bill.
“This bill represents a major step forward in our efforts to address worldwide resource destruction and species loss,” said Jeff Wise, who directs the Alliance for Global Conservation. “It lays out a common sense strategy that will help protect the world's most ecologically and economically important wilderness and marine areas, promote global security and even increase U.S. competitiveness.”
Healthy terrestrial and marine ecosystems are also critical to food security and disaster prevention. An analysis by David Pimental at Cornell University concludes that wild species such as birds and insects provide US$100 billion worth of pest control services to world agriculture every year. And according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, healthy coral reefs reduce the impact of large storms on coastal populations, a protective function valued at US$9 billion a year.
The destruction of natural areas comes at a tremendous cost. Research by the World Resources Institute has found that medicines derived from natural sources, including 10 of the world's 25 top-selling drugs, have a market value of US$75-$150 billion per year. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, current extinction rates could eliminate at least one prescription drug from entering the market every two years.
“Environmental degradation and the loss of species dramatically reduces our ability to discover and develop new drugs for the treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and infectious diseases” said Dr. Gordon Cragg, retired Chief of the National Cancer Institute's Natural Products Branch, an Institute of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but the Pew Environment Group is part of the Alliance for Global Conservation which is working to protect the world's last natural areas and rapidly disappearing biodiversity.