On December 7th, part two of the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) will start in Montreal, Canada. In the Conference, governments around the world will convene to agree on a new set of goals to guide global action through 2030 to halt and reverse nature loss. As the United Nations Environment Programme has described, “nature is critical to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.” The UN General Assembly proclaimed the current decade — which runs from 2021 through 2030 — as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration in an attempt to call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all over the world.
In recent years, there has been more alarming research found on the decline of biodiversity. Biodiversity is estimated to be declining at an accelerating rate, with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IBPES) estimating in its report that biodiversity is in an unprecedented amount of danger. Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction due to human activity.This decline of biodiversity is a direct threat to human security. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that nature provides free, material, and immaterial ecosystem services that are essential for human health, such as clean air and fresh water as well as food and medicines. The impoverishment of nature’s diversity and thereby the deterioration of the functioning of ecosystems poses a direct threat to the conditions of human life and to the functioning of societies. According to WHO, “biodiversity loss can have significant direct human health impacts if ecosystem services are no longer adequate to meet social needs. Indirectly, changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, income, local migration and, on occasion, may even cause or exacerbate political conflict. Loss in biodiversity may limit discovery of potential treatments for many diseases and health problems.”
Declining biodiversity is, along with climate change, the greatest threats to humankind, but these two environmental threats are interconnected and should be countered at the same time. Climate change is a phenomenon that accelerates the decline of biodiversity because it alters the habitats of species, and not all species are able to adapt quickly enough. The decline of biodiversity accelerates climate change as the erosion of ecosystems affect nature’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions with carbon sinks.
Similarly with climate change, international communities have realized the need to take collective action to counter biodiversity loss. The decline of biodiversity became the focus of international politics, together with the fight against climate change, at the Environment and Development Conference organized by the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The UN has several times built momentum for acting on conserving biodiversity globally, but governments have failed to do so. In 2002, world leaders agreed to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010. After failing to meet the target for the end of the decade, the Nagoya Biodiversity Compact was adopted in 2010 which established a global biodiversity strategy for 2011-2020, also known as the Aichi Targets. According to the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook report, only six of the 20 targets were met by 2020. According to Nature Journal, The Aichi targets failed, in part, because their format made progress hard to measure.
Last year the drafting of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework started with a biodiversity conference that took place in Kunming, China and resulted in the Kunming Declaration, which states that “where parties to the Convention committed to develop, adopt and implement an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework that would put biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest, towards the full realization of the 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature.” WWF has upheld the Kunming Declaration, saying that it is “a show of political will and adds much-needed momentum by clearly signalling the direction of travel to address biodiversity loss” yet then adds “that its impacts lie in how it is put into action.”
The approval of Kunming Declaration, increasing support given for 30 by 30 target and countries pledges of financial support has given hope that the COP15 can become a turning point in the conservation of biodiversity.
One of the 21 targets of the new global biodiversity framework is that that at least 30 per cent of all land and sea areas be conserved by 2030. The global 30 by 30 target has been endorsed by the G7 and it is currently supported by more than 100 countries that belong to the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People.
Chloe Farand writes for Climate Home News that the biodiversity negotiations have been heavily criticized by conservation groups for their slow progress and low level of ambition. Indeed, negotiations have progressed extremely slowly, as this is the fourth year of meetings since the first meeting of the convention working group took place in August 2019 in Kenya. The Biodiversity Summit was initially scheduled to take place in October 2020 in China, but it has been continuously delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and was eventually relocated to Canada. As Farand describes, the biodiversity pact has barely registered on the 2020’s international agenda, as governments are occupied with the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and soaring inflation.
Natasha Gilbert’s writing in Nature describes that “concerns over insufficient financing for global biodiversity conservation has stalled negotiations and threatens to derail attempts to finalize a deal in Montreal.” Many biodiversity hotspots are in the South but developing countries cannot meet the biodiversity targets. According to Reuters, African groups and several developing countries have called for wealthy countries to provide up to $700 billion a year by 2030 to help fund efforts to protect biodiversity. More recently in the end of September, The Guardian and Nature Conservancy reported that several world leaders announced new commitments aimed at catalyzing biodiversity finance and conservation in the UN General Assembly.
Reaching the goals of biodiversity conservation cannot be postponed for the future decades anymore. In the negotiations, nations of the world should agree on at least the 30 by 30 conservation target for forests and marine life, although it alone is not enough to conserve biodiversity globally. The decline of biological diversity is a direct result of human activity, and humankind erodes the foundations of its existence with its environmentally destructive activities which must be adjusted to the limits of nature. There are several drivers influencing the decline of biodiversity and the most significant of them, according to IBPES are the following in descending order: changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution, and invasive alien species. According to IBPES chair Sir Robert Watson “the Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global. Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
UNEP has emphasized that the COP15 negotiations must address overexploitation, pollution, fragmentation, and unsustainable agricultural practices. UNEP has also highlighted that what must happen at COP15 is an agreement on a plan that is equitable.
Action to support implementation should be taken on multiple levels and in a comprehensive manner. Global action must be taken now to protect biodiversity, and governments must agree on an ambitious deal in Montreal.
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