Conservationists and agriculturalists must harness new, integrated approaches to achieve biodiversity and agricultural goals, argues Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme.
Agricultural development is the only way to meet the food needs of our growing population, says Steiner. But this will require large amounts of agricultural land — up to 17 million square kilometres by 2050.
The expansion of agricultural land could intensify declines in biodiversity and increase greenhouse gas emissions, he warns, bringing the world "closer to ecological tipping points that could strain the global life-support systems upon which agriculture itself depends".
Steiner calls for a "new agriculture", where the value of ecosystem services such as food and water is built into food production costs, and a "new conservation" that enables conservationists to work with the agricultural sector.
He suggests factoring the environmental costs of production into the price of ecosystem goods and services by providing incentives for carbon sequestration, and putting in place monitoring and reward payment systems for farmers who manage land sustainably.
There are signs of progress towards this goal, says Steiner. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, an international research project, is calculating the costs of biodiversity and ecosystem degradation. And the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services will be a forum where agriculture and conservation knowledge will be integrated and translated into policy.