Biodiversity COP15: An Opportunity to Reverse the Loss of Nature
On the eve of the start of the COP15 on Biodiversity we share an exclusive article by journalist Alberto Ñiquen on the main topics of discussion of the event as well as the global challenges around biodiversity loss.
Alberto Ñiquen is a peruvian journalist specializing in climate change, sustainable development and Indigenous Peoples; member of The Climate Reality Project, Parents for Future Latam, Parents for Future Global and ex editor from la Mula.Pe.
From 7-19 December, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) will take place in Montreal, Canada, where decision-makers will have the opportunity to adopt the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), a landmark global plan to transform society’s relationship with biodiversity over the remainder of this decade and to ensure that the Convention’s vision for 2050 of 'living in harmony with nature' is fulfilled.
Biodiversity is vital to life on our planet
From our oceans to our forests, nature underpins the global food system; provides freshwater; sustains air and soil quality; regulates climate; provides pollination and pest control; absorbs carbon emissions and reduces the impact of natural hazards. Billions of people, in developed and developing countries, benefit daily from the use of wild species for food, energy, materials, medicine, recreation, inspiration and many other essential contributions to human well-being.
However, the accelerating global biodiversity crisis, with 1 million plant and animal species in danger of extinction, threatens these contributions to people. The recent Living Planet 2022 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) shows a global average decline of 69% in 32,000 surveyed populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish around the world between 1970 and 2018. Latin America shows the largest regional decline (94%). In terms of species, freshwater populations show the greatest decline (83%).
The planet has lost half of its topsoil, and forest areas the size of 27 football fields are lost every minute. On top of that, 14 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year. Half of our world’s corals have been destroyed, and almost a third of all monitored global fish stocks are now overfished.
Genetic diversity is also disappearing. Short-sightedness in political and economic decisions focused on quick profits and driving economic growth partly explains the global biodiversity crisis, as the ‘Values Assessment’ report claims, which was launched this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
“Seventy per cent of the world’s poor depend directly on wild species. One in five people require wild plants, algae and fungi for food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuelwood for cooking and about 90% of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries rely on artisanal fisheries,” says Dr Marla R. Emery, who participated in the IPBES study. “Regular use of wild species is extremely important.
From the fish we eat to medicines, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, the use of wild species is much more prevalent than most people realize,” she adds.
On the other hand, 17% of the Amazon basin has been deforested and another 17% of the biome is degraded. This poses a threat to the Amazon, a crucial component of the Earth’s climate system as it stores between 150 and 200 billion tonnes of carbon; and for its biodiversity, which includes 18% of vascular plant species, 14% of birds, 9% of mammals, 8% of amphibians and 18% of fish living in the tropics, according to the Science Panel for the Amazon.
It is in this context that the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will take place in Montreal (Canada) from 7 to 19 December, where the Global Biodiversity Framework to protect and restore nature by 2030 should be approved. In addition to being scientifically sound, comprehensive and beneficial for all, this agreement must be ambitious and robust so that signatory Parties start implementing it immediately through the establishment of national targets.
COP15 must prioritize nature as a key element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing the climate emergency, and mark Montreal as a turning point in securing a future for all life on earth. World leaders (although they will not be present) must send the message loud and clear that the existential biodiversity crisis can and must be addressed at the same time as the pressing socio-economic needs resulting from the current challenging global economic situation.
The stakes are high, time is short and the negotiations will be complicated. The first part of COP15, which took place last year in Kunming (China), moved forward with a Declaration that commits its signatories to strengthen biodiversity protection: to develop and implement an effective global framework that aims to put biodiversity on track for recovery by 2030. This includes commitments to improve conservation effectiveness, strengthen environmental law and reform financial incentives to protect biodiversity.
The Kunming Declaration recognises that continued biodiversity loss puts the achievement of the SDGs and other international targets at risk. It must also acknowledge that the unprecedented and interrelated crises of biodiversity loss, climate change, land degradation and desertification, ocean degradation and pollution, as well as increasing risks to human health and food security, are an existential threat to humanity.
Since then there have been meetings and negotiations that should have aimed to act urgently and arrive in Montreal with an ambitious final biodiversity agreement draft, but not much progress has been made and the necessary ambition of world leaders is still lacking. Some hope nevertheless exists that the outcome of the recent COP27 on climate change, which took place in Egypt last November, will serve as a stimulus.
As of the first half of this year, more than 100 countries have received financial support to accelerate efforts to conserve, protect and restore species and ecosystems. As soon as a new global agreement, which is currently under negotiation, is approved, the new US$43 million Global Environment Facility (GEF) funding window will provide developing countries with the means to effectively implement the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and make progress towards the goal of halting and reversing species loss this decade.
The following are the main topics to be addressed:
Global Biodiversity Framework
This is the main focus of COP15 and is the equivalent of the COP’s Paris Agreement on climate change. The framework includes 22 targets for urgent action until 2030, which focus on reducing threats to biodiversity of freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. The targets consider specific figures, such as restoring 20% of degraded ecosystems and conserving 30% of terrestrial and marine areas globally.
Other targets relate to the sustainable management of wild terrestrial, freshwater and marine species; green and blue spaces for human health and well-being; water and air quality; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
Yet other targets consider the role of business and government subsidies that harm the environment; agreements on biodiversity financing (including how costs are shared between rich and developing countries); the important role of indigenous peoples and communities in the dialogue on knowledge sharing and the benefit of biodiversity.
Target 22 was included this year and it seeks to ensure that women and girls, including people with disabilities, have equal access to and benefit from the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
The objective seeks to ensure that at least 30% of the world’s terrestrial and marine areas, especially those of particular importance for biodiversity and its contributions to people, are conserved through ecologically representative and well-connected systems of effectively and equitably managed protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.
While many indigenous peoples have been in favor of this initiative, some environmental organizations and human rights activists point out that it is a risky solution and millions of people could be affected and suffer consequences if the land on which they have lived in harmony with nature for many generations suddenly becomes protected.
The idea of Positive Nature—halting and reversing current trends in biodiversity loss for the benefit of human and planetary well-being—is expected to become the new standard. It can be seen as nature’s version of ‘net zero carbon’ in terms of where we need to go, and is also the core mission of this COP15 under the “global goal for nature”.
COP15 has identified the need to generate a net gain, i.e. not only mitigate and offset negative impacts, but also reverse the decline of biodiversity and put it on a trajectory back to a historical state. The details have yet to be worked out, but essentially the aim is to have no net loss by 2030 and return to a fully functioning natural world by 2050.
Finance will play a key role in restoring nature, just as climate finance. Financial support is needed from countries with more resources to help develop biodiversity solutions in countries that do not have the means to do so.
Target 19 identifies an annual funding gap of at least US$700 billion to reverse the global biodiversity crisis. Directing financial resources to projects that enable sustainable development is critical. In 2020, the Paulson Institute and other international organizations published a report on biodiversity finance, and found that redirecting subsidies to agriculture, forestry and fisheries that harm biodiversity, as well as improving supply chain sustainability, would free up nearly $300 billion.
Reversing biodiversity loss and preventing ecosystem failure will not happen unless the forces that could cause it lose financial strength and those who adopt nature-positive approaches have access to the resources they need.
There are specific targets on eliminating environmentally harmful subsidies (Target 18) and increasing funding that flows towards nature-positive outcomes. There are already some significant developments internationally around emerging private markets for nature-based solutions and innovative blended finance mechanisms, which can help implement this at scale. Environmentally harmful subsidies account for at least US$1.8 billion a year.
For business, target 15 of the Global Biodiversity Framework is of vital importance. The draft text addresses how all large companies and financial institutions should assess their impacts and dependencies on nature. They should aim for a reduction of negative impacts, and an increase in positive impacts, across their operations, value chains and portfolios. There is also a proposal to make it a mandatory requirement to disclose these impacts and dependencies.
In this regard, it is worth recalling that in 2020 the World Economic Forum published The New Nature Economy Report, an analysis of 163 industry sectors and their supply chains, which showed that economic value generation of US$44 billion, more than half of the world’s total GDP, is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and, as a result, is exposed to the risks of nature’s loss. Construction (US$4 billion), agriculture (US$2.5 billion) and food and beverages (US$1.4 billion) are the three largest industries that depend most heavily on nature.
In July this year, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a report highlighting the contributions of indigenous peoples to the conservation of wild species. IPBES scientists recognise that scientific evidence is often limited and that indigenous and local community knowledge is underutilized and devalued.
The report shows that deforestation is generally lower in indigenous territories, particularly where there is security of land tenure, continuity of knowledge and languages, and alternative livelihoods. But it also shows that national policy initiatives often do not involve indigenous peoples in decision-making, so their inclusion in policy development and implementation requires “sustained engagement and recognition of the authority of both systems (indigenous and local), as doing so can be mutually beneficial”.
Amazonian indigenous organizations, representing 511 indigenous peoples and allies, are calling for a global agreement for the permanent protection of 80% of the Amazon by 2025 as an urgent measure to avoid the impending point of no return and a planetary crisis.
The draft agreement to be discussed at COP15 includes a clause that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities must guide decision-making “with their free, prior and informed consent”.
One of the goals of the global framework is to ensure benefits, including nutrition, food security, medicines and livelihoods for people, especially the most vulnerable, through the sustainable management of terrestrial, freshwater and marine wild species and by protecting the customary sustainable use of indigenous peoples and local communities.
In 2021, nearly 193 million people in 53 countries were severely food insecure, an increase of nearly 40 million from the highest level reached in 2020. Three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet and millions of children suffer from stunting or extreme malnutrition, while the global obesity rate continues to rise. To achieve the SDGs, agrifood systems must be transformed to feed people, care for the planet and biodiversity, advance just livelihoods and build resilient ecosystems. Any collective action taken to address the climate and biodiversity crises must address our fragile and stressed food system.
What is a biodiversity COP?
Adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognised for the first time in international law that the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind. The agreement covers all ecosystems, species and genetic resources. Its main objectives are the conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity), the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from genetic resources.
It has been ratified by 196 nations (the United States is not part of this list, although representatives of the US government will participate in Montreal). The CBD’s governing body is the Conference of the Parties (COP), the highest authority of all governments that have ratified the treaty, which meets every two years to review progress, set priorities and commit to work plans.
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