COP15 Summary: The World Coming Together for Biodiversity

The UN Biodiversity Conference including the fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) recently concluded in Montreal, Canada. The main objective of this meeting was to adopt the post-2020 global biodiversity framework — a strategic vision and global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. This is critically important work that I wanted to shine a light on.

The Convention on Biological Diversity includes 196 parties; every country in the world except the United States and the Holy See (the U.S. isn’t a party to the convention because Republicans, who are typically opposed to joining treaties, have blocked U.S. membership. The American delegation can only participate from the sidelines). The U.N Secretary General, António Guterres, stated in his opening remarks: “With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction”. Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy and prominent climate researcher.explained “Climate change presents a nearer-term threat to the future of human civilization. The biodiversity crisis presents a longer-term crisis to the viability of the human species.” Humans are responsible for driving climate change and biodiversity loss through the overconsumption of Earth’s resources.These two threats are interconnected and must be addressed together. It is important to note that we are locked into the climate we have created for the next thousands to millions of years. Every day that we continue to dump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere only compounds the severity of climate change effects that we are facing.

The planet is currently undergoing its sixth mass extinction.The cause is undeniable; humans have taken over too much of the planet and disrupted or destroyed the habitats of our plant and animal partners. Climate change and other pressures exacerbate the problem. Most of the land grab is taken for agriculture, like clearing forests to graze cattle or plant crops, or to build cities and roads. The human population just surpassed 8 billion people and per capita consumption continues to soar. The global rate of species extinction is already tens to hundreds of times higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years and is accelerating. If you are already aware of the magnitude of this species’ slaughter or have a hard time stomaching the numbers, feel free to skip this list. The data is sobering — here’s a sampling of it:

  • A million plants and animals are at risk of extinction, many within decades.
  • 75% of Earth’s land surface is significantly altered, 85% of wetlands have been lost.
  • Marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species, including 86% of marine turtles, 44% of seabirds, and 43% of marine mammals.
  • Nearly one-fifth of Earth’s surface is at risk of plant and animal invasions, impacting native species, ecosystem functions, and nature’s contributions to people. The rate of new invasive alien species is higher than ever and shows no sign of slowing.
  • Approximately half of the live coral cover on coral reefs has been lost since the 1870’s, with accelerating losses in recent decades due to climate change exacerbating other drivers.
  • The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20% (mostly since 1900), potentially affecting ecosystem processes.
  • Rapid declines in insect populations is well documented in some areas, although global trends remain unknown.

In order to avoid dropping into the depths of despair and hopelessness when facing this reality, it’s helpful to focus on some of the current global efforts being made by individuals and organizations to alleviate or reverse biodiversity loss and mitigate the affects of climate change. Here are just a few examples:

  • With the help of The Nature Conservancy and Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservancy, Belize is able to restructure much of the country’s debt and generate $4 million annually for environmental protection over two decades.
  • In Canada’s far north, Inuit leaders are working to restore caribou herds that have been in steep decline.
  • The United Nations is creating a binding framework by the end of 2024 to guide the elimination of plastic pollution. It declared access to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment a universal human right.
  • Brazilian citizens have planted over 2 million trees since 2005. Tree coverage has expanded in 36 countries between 2005 and 2020.
  • Argentina has created a new 1.6 million-acre national park incorporating a salt lake and surrounding wetlands providing needed habitat for numerous birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
  • European bison are being reintroduced in Kent, United Kingdom, as part of a larger project to restore the area’s natural biodiversity.
  • A town in Japan has figured out how to reuse or recycle 80% of it’s waste. South Korea now recycles 100% of its food waste.
  • Since 2001, 195 sites around the world have been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. These sites limit their light pollution which negatively impacts birds, animals, plants, and ecosystems.
  • Across the country, local watersheds and Land Trusts work tirelessly to conserve and restore thousands of acres of rivers, forests, and wildlife habitat.

And now, after two weeks of negotiations, the COP15 participating governments agreed to a historic deal — the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF). To quote Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature: “This is a huge moment for nature.”. The GBF consists of four overarching global goals to protect nature: 1) halting human-induced extinction of threatened species and reducing the rate of extinction of all species tenfold by 2050; 2) sustainable use and management of biodiversity to ensure that nature’s contributions to people are valued, maintained, and enhanced; 3) fair sharing of the benefits from the utilization of genetic resources, and digital sequence information on genetic resources; 4) the adequate means of implementing the GBF be accessible to all Parties, particularly Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. The GBF also features 23 targets to achieve by 2030, including:

  • Effective conservation and management of at least 30% of the world’s land, coastal areas, and oceans. Currently, about 17% of land and about 8% of marine areas are protected
  • Restoration of 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems
  • Reduce to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance and high ecological integrity
  • Halving global food waste
  • Phasing out or reforming subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use
  • Mobilizing at least $200 billion per year from public and private sources for biodiversity-related funding
  • Raising international financial flows from developed to developing countries to at least $30 billion per year
  • Requiring transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess, and transparently disclose risks and impacts on biodiversity through their operations, portfolios, supply and value chains

Indigenous populations include about 476 million people living across 90 countries and representing 5,000 different cultures. They manage an estimated 25% of Earths land mass. Yet they are among the worlds most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups due to systemic marginalization. The GBF acknowledges the important roles and contributions of indigenous populations around the world as stewards of nature and partners in its conservation, restoration, and sustainable use.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

The UN Biodiversity Conference has done the work of pulling together the scientific data and the delegates of the world’s countries to set these ambitious, but necessary, goals. Can these lofty targets be realized? We cannot be lulled into thinking that it is now the responsibility of each government to achieve them. Hopefully, our governments will follow through on these commitments and provide the necessary financing, hold companies accountable to sustainability practices, along with enacting laws to conserve Earth’s land and waters for protection.

It is, however, imperative that everyone on earth (yes, that’s me, you, everyone) do their part to meet these goals. We cannot continue to be a part of the problem and hope that someone else will fix the disaster we are creating. Here are just a few ideas for that you can start doing immediately to do your part. Do one or two, or all of them and more — every action you take multiplies the actions others are taking, and this is where the ultimate solution lies.

  • Support and/or volunteer for organizations that conserve and restore lands
  • Reduce or eliminate meat consumption, particularly beef. Adopt a more plant-based diet
  • Create a nature-friendly garden; add native plants including flowering plants that pollinators love, eliminate pesticide use, provide a clean source of water for birds, insects, amphibians. Join the Backyard Habitat Certification Program!
  • Commit to your next vehicle purchase being electric or hybrid
  • Talk to your friends and family about what you are doing to mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss
  • Reduce food waste, compost, grow your own vegetable garden
  • Add solar panels to your home, if possible, or support green energy.
  • Avoid, as much as possible, buying anything plastic. Lots of companies are now producing quality products that are not packaged using plastic — look for them online. Skip the plastic produce bag at the grocery store and bring your own reusable grocery bags to the store with you
  • Buy less and buy wisely — local, seasonal, organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, renewable materials, recycled content, etc

REFERENCES

  1. “COP15 ends with landmark biodiversity agreement”. (Dec. 20, 2022). Retrieved from: unep.org
  2. The United Nations Biodiversity Conference”. (December 2022). Retrieved from: cbd.int
  3. Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services“. (2019). Retrieved from: zenodo.org
  4. Einhorn, C. and Leatherby, L. (Dec. 9, 2022). “Animals Are Running Out of Places to Live” . Retrieved from: nytimes.com
  5. Janicki, J., Daigle, K., and Kiyada, S. (Dec. 23, 2022). “On the Brink”. Retrieved from: reuters.com
  6. Einhorn, C. (Dec. 20, 2022). ” Nearly Every Country Signs On to a Sweeping Deal to Protect Nature”. Retrieved from: nytimes.com
  7. Grandoni, D. (Dec. 19, 2022). “Nations promise to protect 30 percent of planet to stem extinction”. Retrieved from: washingtonpost.com
  8. “World | Points of Progress”. Retrieved from: csmonitor.com
  9. Dunne, D. (July 21, 2022). ” Explainer: Can climate change and biodiversity loss be tackled together?”. Retrieved from: weforum.org

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