As 20,000 government leaders, journalists, activists and celebrities from around the world prepare to descend in Glasgow for a pivotal climate summit, starting later this month, another high-level international meeting on the environment kicked off this week. The problem he is trying to solve: the rapid collapse of the species and systems that collectively support life on Earth.
The stakes in the two meetings are equally high, according to many leading scientists, but much less attention has been paid to the biodiversity crisis.
“If the global community continues to view this as a side event and they continue to think that climate change is something to really listen to, then it may be too late by the time they wake up to biodiversity.” said Francis Ogwal, one of the leaders of the working group that is shaping the agreement between the countries.
Scientists believe that because climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected and can have both win-win solutions and vicious cycles of destruction, they need to be tackled together. But their global summits are divided and one overshadows the other.
“Awareness is not where it should be,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a biologist and climate researcher who has helped lead international research on both issues. He calls them “two existential crises that humanity has caused on the planet.”
Why biodiversity matters
Apart from any moral reasons why humans care about other species on Earth, there are also practical ones. At the most basic level, human survival depends on nature.
“The diversity of all plants and all animals, they actually make the planet function,” said Anne Larigoderi, an ecologist who chairs the leading intergovernmental commission on biodiversity. “They ensure that we have oxygen in the air, that we have fertile soil.”
If you lose too many players in the ecosystem, it will stop working. According to the flagship report on the state of the world’s biodiversity published by Dr. Larigoderi’s group Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity, the average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has dropped by at least 20 percent, mostly since 1900. and ecosystem services. He found that about a million species are endangered.
Climate change is just one of the causes of biodiversity loss. At the moment, the main culprit on land is people destroying habitats through activities such as agriculture, mining and logging. Overfishing at sea. Other causes include pollution and introduced species that crowd out native ones.
“When you have two simultaneous existential crises, you can’t choose just one to focus on — you have to solve both, no matter how difficult,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of Campaign for Nature, an advocacy group. “It’s like having a flat tire and a flat battery in your car at the same time. You will still get stuck if you fix just one. ”
How it works
This week, environmental officials, diplomats and other observers from around the world gathered online and a small group met in person in Kunming, China, for a meeting, the 15th United Nations Conference on Biodiversity.
The United States is the only country in the world besides the Vatican that is not a party to the main treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and this situation is largely attributed to the Republican opposition. American representatives do participate in the negotiations, as do environmental groups and other organizations.
Due to the pandemic, the conference was split into two parts. While this virtual part was mainly concerned with mobilizing political will, countries will meet again in China in the spring to ratify a set of goals to tackle biodiversity loss. “The goal will be to adopt a nature pact similar to the Paris Agreement on climate change,” said Elisabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the convention.
Officials reported last year that countries around the world have largely fallen short of the targets of the previous 2010 global agreement on biodiversity.
If new commitments are not translated into “effective policies and concrete action,” Ms Mrema said this week, “we risk repeating the failures of the past decade.”
The working draft includes 21 goals that serve as a plan to reduce biodiversity loss. Many of them are concrete and measurable, others are more abstract. Nothing is easy. Ultimately, they include:
Create a plan for all the land and waters of each country to make the best decisions about where to conduct activities such as farming and mining while preserving the wilderness.
Ensure sustainable and safe hunting and catching of wild species.
Reducing agricultural runoff, pesticide and plastic pollution.
Use ecosystems to limit climate change by conserving the carbon that is causing the planet to warm.
Cut subsidies and other financial programs that damage biodiversity by at least $ 500 billion a year – the estimated amount that governments are spending to support fossil fuels and potentially harmful agricultural practices.
Protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030.
Ahead of the conference, this latest measure, promoted by environmentalists and a growing number of countries, has received a large share of resources and attention. Last month, nine charitable groups donated $ 5 billion to a project known as 30×30.
“It’s catchy,” said EO Wilson, an influential biologist and professor emeritus at Harvard University. He said he hopes 30×30 will be a step towards saving half of the planet to nature one day.
The indigenous peoples looked on with hope and concern. Some applaud the expansion, calling for an increase of more than 30 percent, while others fear they will lose the ability to use their land, as has historically happened in many areas set aside for conservation.
The debate highlights the central tensions arising in the biodiversity negotiations.
“If it becomes a purely environmental plan, it will fail,” said Basile van Leavre, along with Mr Ogwal, one of the convention’s working groups. “We need a plan for nature and people.”
Scientists say that as the planet’s population continues to grow, transformational change is needed for the planet to support us.
“We really need to look at every human endeavor, if you like, through the lens of biodiversity and nature,” said Dr. Larigoderi. She noted that since everyone is dependent on nature, “everyone is part of the solution.”