A decade after adopting a set of biodiversity restoration goals under a United Nations treaty, countries have missed every single milestone in the effort to protect the world’s genetic diversity, food supply, health, and security, according to a report released by the UN this week.
“When governments act to protect and restore nature, the authors found, it works,” the New York Times reports, in a story republished by the Globe and Mail. “But despite commitments made 10 years ago, nations have not come close to meeting the scale of the crisis, which continues to worsen because of unsustainable farming, overfishing, burning of fossil fuels, and other activities.”
The Times links that finding to a moment when the “devastating consequences that can result from an unhealthy relationship with nature are on full display: A pandemic that very likely jumped from bats has upended life worldwide, and wildfires, worsened by climate change and land management policies, are ravaging the American West.”
“These things are a sign of what is to come,” said report co-author David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. “These things will only get worse if we don’t change course.”
When almost every country in the world signed on the 20 goals under the CBD in 2010, “the science was already clear: Human activity was decimating animals and plants across the planet, causing a wave of extinctions and throwing ecosystems so out of balance that the domino effects threatened humans themselves,” the Times recalls. “The agreement, with a deadline of 2020 for the new goals, was a hard-won diplomatic triumph.”
But “as with climate change, scientific alarms on biodiversity loss have gone largely unheeded as the problem intensifies,” the paper adds. Which meant that “the destruction of habitats such as forests, mangroves, and grasslands was not cut in half. Overfishing did not decrease. Governments did not stop subsidizing fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides that are contributing to the biodiversity crisis.”
Overall, the Times says, only six of the convention’s 20 goals were partly met, and none were fully met.
“Many governments, within their ministr[ies] of environment, have a lot of ambition for biodiversity,” explained ecologist Anne Larigauderie. “But they don’t have enough power compared to the other ministries: agriculture, transportation, energy.”
Yet “if you put in place the policies, they do work,” Cooper said.
“By investing in nature, not only can we reduce extinctions, we can help address the climate issue,” he told the Times. “We can also have healthier landscapes and healthier people.”
In separate reporting earlier this month, Reuters pointed to COVID-19 recovery funds as an opportunity to accelerate biodiversity protection as well as climate action in developing countries. In a place like Kenya, were the loss of tourism dollars during the pandemic has cut off community incomes and wildlife protection dollars, debt swaps that reduce the country’s foreign debt in exchange for targeted action on climate and biodiversity “could tackle several big problems at once,” the news agency wrote, citing a report from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
“As part of pandemic economic rescue packages, governments have an opportunity to address simultaneously the crises of debt, climate, and biodiversity destruction,” stated the report, which listed Cape Verde, Vietnam, Honduras, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Papua New Guinea as prime candidates for the approach.
Meanwhile, the authors of the 2019 Global Deal for Nature are out this week with the Global Safety Net, a follow-up report that identifies the specific regions of the world that would have to be set aside to protect half of Earth’s land, freshwater, and marine areas by 2030.
“We analyzed unprotected terrestrial areas that, if protected, could sequester carbon and conserve biodiversity as effectively as the 15% of terrestrial areas that are currently protected,” Arizona State University ecologist Greg Asner writes for Environmental News Bits. “Through this analysis, we identified an additional 35% of unprotected lands for conservation, bringing the total percentage of protected nature to 50%.”
The approach would “save our planet’s rich biodiversity,” prevent future pandemics, and meet the carbon reduction targets in the 2015 Paris Agreement, Asner says—but the responsibility for making it happen would fall disproportionately on 20 countries, including Russia, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Australia, and China.
“Why?” he asks. “Because these countries contain massive tracts of land needed to reach the dual goals of reducing climate change and saving biodiversity.”
The report notes that Indigenous peoples make up less than 5% of the world’s population, but manage or hold tenure over 25% of the land surface, representing nearly 80% of Earth’s biodiversity. And they stand to lose the most as the world “edges closer towards a sixth mass extinction”.
Of the lands the researchers are proposing for heightened protection, 37% overlap with Indigenous territories.
“To address and alleviate human rights questions, social justice issues, and conservation challenges, the Global Safety Net calls for better protection for Indigenous communities,” he says. “We believe our goals are achievable by upholding existing land tenure rights, addressing Indigenous land claims, and carrying out supportive ecological management programs with Indigenous peoples.”