Is this finally the year for global action on biodiversity?

“Until now we have been destroying our planet, abusing it as if we had a spare one.” Such an attitude, expressed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, towards biodiversity is undeniably unsustainable and cannot go on. 2021 may be the last chance for the world leaders to stop the deterioration of the Earth’s health. By giving off the right signals in the events leading up to the COP15 on Biological Diversity, it raises the chances of reaching an ambitious agreement in Kunming, China.

Not many days after the turn of the new year, Paris hosted the One Planet Summit, supported by the EU, UN and World Bank. As the first major biodiversity summit of a crucial year, the One Planet Summit aimed to kick the year off on the right tone. Around 30 heads of government, government officials, and leaders of international organisations took part. However, notably absent from this high level line-up were representatives from India, the USA, Brazil and Russia. These four countries make up 28% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and also contain a vast amount of the Earth’s biodiversity. Therefore, their absence at this summit is something worth noting.

Unlike previous One Planet Summits, where the focus of attention had been on climate change, this time round it was the turn of biodiversity. However, it goes without saying that the two are interconnected and that actions impacting one of them also effect the other.

Achieving progress

The main themes of this summit were the protection of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, agro-ecology, funding for global biodiversity, and the link between deforestation, species and human health. After discussions that took place during the summit, progress has been made on a few initiatives, eliciting commitments from many participating states.

Highlights included the pledge from the participating states to protect 30% of lands and oceans and the launch of the PREZODE initiative. The PREZODE initiative is very much relevant to today’s world as it strives to create a worldwide network of researchers to focus on preventing the next zoonotic disease induced pandemic. With the world’s ecological health still on a downward trajectory, our susceptibility to zoonotic diseases is only set to increase unless the world gives biodiversity a chance to recover. This makes such an initiative especially important in the current context.

One of the most eye-catching developments of the summit was the African ‘Great Green Wall’. In total, the participating parties made a commitment of over US$14 billion to this project. Led by the African Union, the ‘Great Green Wall’ aims to create a mosaic of green productive landscapes across the Sahel region, on the southern boundary of the Sahara. These new green areas aim to enhance the ecosystem services provided in this area, such as drinking water and fertile soils. Desertification is a threat to the region and this ‘Great Green Wall’ also hopes to reverse this trend. However, this plan, first conceived in 2007, has taken time to properly get off the ground. Some countries in the Sahel only joined in 2014. With the One Planet Summit focusing on this initiative, there is hope that this ‘Great Green Wall’ project can now make positive strides in the right direction.

Driving force

On the surface of it all, France and the UK made some large commitments to this sum during the summit. They designated 30% of their overseas public funding to nature based solutions, helping drive forward more sustainable approaches to the world’s problems. Boris Johnson pledged £3 billion for nature and global biodiversity. These are significant sums of money but at the moment they are merely plans and governments and international organisations still need to organise a targeted approach.

France and the UK also took a leading role in the pledge to protect 30% of terrestrial and marine areas by 2030. France and Costa Rica co-chair this ‘High Ambition Coalition for People and Nature’, with the UK acting as the Ocean’s co-chair of this initiative. Over 50 countries have joined this coalition. This pledge is a step in the right direction for protecting species, global biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as contributing to other environmental targets, such as climate-related ones. World leaders are set to discuss these issues at October’s COP15 in China where there is hope that governments can come to a legally binding agreement under international law with regards to biodiversity, in a similar way to the Paris Agreement.

The UN has estimated that an additional US$700 billion a year is what the wold requires to reverse environmental degradation caused by humans. Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, made further contributions to this total. He pledged US$44 million to the UN’s land degradation neutrality fund. International and transnational organisations made clear of their intent to get involved as well. The World Bank promised to spend 35% of their budget on climate co-benefits. In a similar fashion, the EU’s European Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy are good contributions to build on for strengthening biodiversity in the near future.

Growing public awareness

As governments begin to make their first moves on biodiversity conservation for the upcoming year, public sentiment is behind a drive to preserve biodiversity. A recent UN poll on climate change, ‘The People’s Climate Vote’, has revealed over 1 million participants’ opinions on climate change and related topics.

Four of the world’s top seven climate policies are associated with biodiversity showing how interconnected the two issues are. In order to tackle climate issues, global biodiversity protection is crucial too. Within the top seven climate policy concerns, those related to biodiversity consisted of the need to conserve forests and land, using climate friendly farming techniques, keeping ocean and waterways healthy, building infrastructure and conserving nature to protect lives and livelihoods. Overall, the most popular action to tackle climate change was that of conserving forests and land, which garnered 54% support from the survey’s respondents. Although climate change has long been an issue in the public conscience, it is evident that the general public are now also making the link between biodiversity and climate change. Only hand in hand, can the world tackle both issues sustainably.

Big year ahead

“COP15 for nature must be like the COP 21 was for climate. And we need a Paris style agreement to go with it: ambitious, global and game changing.”

Ursula Von Der Leyen
President of the European Commission

The growing awareness of biodiversity issues and its importance to the Earth’s environment is putting increasing pressure on decision makers to act. The upcoming COP15 on Biological Diversity will take place in Kunming, China this year between the 17th-30th of May. The time has come together to build a concrete framework and set of actions for the preservation and restoration of the Earth’s biodiversity, otherwise efforts to preserve global biodiversity will be futile.

Hopes for a Global Deal for Nature hinge upon the willingness of government leaders, corporations, and international organisations in coming together to agree upon a legally binding treaty. The urgency that was seen in the run up to COP21 and the signing of the Paris Agreement is required. Only with all countries on board, can states agree upon an effective and comprehensive plan to halt biodiversity loss.

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