This article is a very roughly edited and heavily abridged version of a 2007 essay written for a University module. It has been edited, in light of my impending move to Leeds, so as to provide an overview of the GSPC, thereby excusing myself from researching and writing a lengthy update.
The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation was adopted in 2002 at the sixth meeting of the Conference of Parties. Primarily concerned with plant conservation, the Strategy also targets several other areas including sustainability and the sharing of derived benefits.
Though it is called the ‘Global Strategy’, it also provides guidelines for action at all levels, with each having a role of equal importance. Local governments and organisations, connected on a regional and national level are able to provide a far more detailed and effective strategy than one coordinated on a national level alone. This network of organisations and institutions can have a larger role to play as their findings may impact on the development of objectives on a global level. The emphasis is on collaboration between organisations and countries to meet a series of goals and targets by the year 2010 with the ultimate goal being to halt plant diversity loss entirely.
While plants are globally recognised as a vital part of both our diet and our environment, the number of globally critically endangered species has grown, with current estimates ranging from 60,000 to around 100,000.
- The introduction of alien species has a detrimental affect on many indigenous plants, often out-competing them for available resources and growing with more vigour.
- Many plants are valuable commodities, both for aesthetic and economic reasons. Unsustainable harvesting or collection practises have decimated many populations.
- Plants are not only at risk from negligence by collectors, but also from forestry and agricultural practises. Changes in the way land is used can have a detrimental effect on the local population.
- Nitrogen deposition can affect plant diversity worldwide in natural and semi-natural ecosystems. Around fifty percent of the world’s floral diversity is contained within the 34 designated biodiversity hotspots all of which have a high rate of N deposition. Other pollutants may be equally problematic.
- Though the media and a minority of scientists contest the specific causes, there is little argument to the fact that the planet is currently undergoing a shift in global climate. Already several species have been seen to extend their Northern boundaries, decreasing in the South. The implications of this are profound, as there will come a point for many species when they cannot spread any further in one direction, thus facing extinction.
To address these issues, the Convention sets out key objectives for all parties. These range in scope, from linking existing plant conservation strategies, mobilisation of resources and documenting the flora of a region and trends in its composition to supporting sustainable harvesting and educating on the importance of plant biodiversity.
Compiling a taxonomic database would be the first step in what is a very ambitious plan. Much of the success of the Convention lies with how the parties deal with issues which have a direct effect on plant populations: climate change, pollution and unsustainable practises. While change may be difficult to implement on a national level, much relies on the success of other initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol and the recognition of atmospheric nitrogen levels.
The Conference of the Parties invites both international and regional organisations to adopt, implement and endorse the Global Strategy with the aim of bringing to a halt the loss of global plant diversity. However, as countries have been reticent in signing more binding agreements in the past, the Conference puts forward the idea that all the targets are flexible and can be developed by the parties involved so that it works alongside their current priorities and interests.
The idea of this degree of flexibility in such a scheme can have both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, participants have the freedom to effectively choose their own targets and prioritise accordingly without having to reorganise their current commitments. This means that the Convention is likely to have a diluted, but more widespread effect. On the other hand, parties could see the Convention as an opportunity to reinforce their environmental credentials with little pressure to meet pre-set targets.
Continual assessment is the only way to appropriately prioritise species for conservation and to assess the effectiveness of current strategies. To this effect, the IUCN has devised a set of criteria for such assessments that has been agreed on an international basis. The IUCN also provides accurate and up to date information, assessing the relative danger to each species.
The factors that place such high restrictions on plant conservation mean that to conserve all plants in situ is an impossible task. If the Convention is unsuccessful, ex situ collections may yet be the last refuges for many species.