Shortcomings of Current Policies

Our research on international policies found that few bodies for international biodiversity cooperation exist and the few that do, like the Convention on Biological Diversity, often have little influence over actual policies. This section presents outline of the problems we found in current policies (most of these come from official assessments and, as such, may not cover everything) and policy gaps, particularly those that we think should be addressed.

Problems with Past Policies

Implementation Problems

One key issue in past implementation is that while some governments have been willing to pass laws to help halt the loss of biodiversity, they only have done so sporadically. Furthermore, they only tried to solve a small issue instead of integrating all sectors of the economy to make global and all-inclusive policies. Biodiversity is a large problem that needs to be dealt with in an integrated fashion. Some fields that should be included in policies are agriculture, fisheries, water usage and energy (Council of the European Union, 2011).

Even when the policies were well written and had the potential to be effective, there was often a lack of regulation and enforcement, rendering them essentially ineffective. There is no over-arching body to regulate breeches in policies and impose sanctions on violators. As such, countries have not had any incentives to put their policies into effect. And, since there were no consequences, policies were not implemented to the extent they were meant to be. Furthermore, some policies are over-ridden by new policies that disregard biodiversity. For example, just twelve years after the federal government reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park, a new law was proposed by the Bush administration to allow the killing of about two-thirds of the wolf population. The reintroduction of the wolves had been a "major success" and had "benefited bird, antelope, and elk populations, according to NRDC." This new law "widens the loophole in the Endangered Species Act that permits the killing of hundreds of wolves even though the animals are considered at risk of extinction"(Zumbo, 2011).

Furthermore, most countries put very little funding into environmental issues, so resources are scarce. For example, in the European Union (EU), the budget for all nature conservation projects is 1,700 million EUR, which is less than 1 percent of the EU's annual budget(Spyropoulou et al., 2010).

Lastly, it is hard to come to an international agreement because each country is afraid of losing its sovereignty. Countries also often go into summits with completely different approaches to solving the problem. At the Nagoya Conference, for instance, wealthier countries were reticent to give financial aid to poorer countries to help them preserve valuable hotspots. Developing countries, on the other hand, demanded compensation from developed countries that made a profit from the biodiversity they are trying to preserve, e.g. by selling pharmaceuticals derived from plants existing only in endangered areas of the world (Watts, 2010; Black, 2010).

Technical problems

Aside from implementation problems, some policies suffer from technical problems and need to be rethought altogether. For example, some fire laws in forest regions are ineffective. Whether or not a fire is intentional, it can be damaging to ecosystems and may even kill entire species. The dry weather and the current changing climate in Phillip Island, Australia, has taken its toll on the Eudyptula minor penguin. In 2005, lightning started a very large fire that caused the death of many penguins and almost permanently destroyed the island's ecosystem. Many of these rare creatures have been found dead, either near or in their burrows, killed by small forest fires, which they were unable to retreat from. This has altered their breeding cycles, causing a change in the entire ecosystem (Australian Government, 2011a).

Another recurring problem is a lack of indicators to measure success making it very hard to tell how effective a policy is. This is even more problematic on a large scale where there is no common baseline or standardized indicators. Even in the European Union – which is designed for international cooperation and is relatively uniform in many ways – some measurements are not standardized, resulting in useless data (Streamlining European Biodiversity Indicators, 2011). Future policies should rely on quantitative goals to be successful. This will let future policy makers know how efficient an original policy was, so that they can make changes to make it more efficient.

Furthermore, policy makersare reluctant to be convinced that there even is a problem. First, because of the lack of scientific knowledge or extensive data on the topic, they have trouble believing actions should be taken. Although many specialized researchers are working in this field, their work is not sufficient because of the breadth of the problem(Council of the European Union, 2011). This is exacerbated by the expense of potential policies. Policy makers are unwilling to spend large amounts of money on a policy that they are not sure will work. Even if a policy does do what it is intended to do, the benefits to humans cannot always be evaluated in monetary terms. Also, implementing policies worldwide is a challenge because while developed countries like the United States are unwilling to change their policies, poorer countries are unable to do so.

Missing policy areas

Policies related to invasive alien species are notably missing. Indeed, certain environments are extremely fragile and have a delicate balance of species. The introduction of a new species can hurt the ecosystem by disturbing the balance and altering the food pyramid for that region. The island nation of Australia, however, has attempted to address this problem. Australia has worked hard to preserve its unique ecosystems since it discovered the mayhem caused by invasive alien species (Miall and Lewis, 1988; Australian Government, 2011b). Australia protects its borders against these species, in part, by having very strict border policies. For example, customs agents will not clear potential travelers if they have anything that could contain non-native microorganisms. If such organisms were released into the Australian ecosystem, they could destroy its delicate balance. Although it is not feasible for this type of policy to be implemented worldwide, if even a few nations implemented this, the number of invasive species would be reduced and more native species would be able to survive.

There is also a question as to whether so-called protected lands are sufficiently protected. Some "protected" lands are often not protected from activities that could harm them. More often than not, logging is allowed and little restrictions are in place as to how the logging is done. This is unsustainable and harmful to a given ecosystem. For example, in the Philippines there are bans on all logging practices; but, since this threatens the existence of government-sanctioned companies, illegal logging continues (Cabrera, 2011). In order to prevent such problems, stricter regulations need to be put into place.