Photo by Marco Simola:CIFOR

Why Biodiversity is a Big Focus of UNGA This Year

Ten years ago, more than 190 countries met in Aichi, Japan to set 20 biodiversity targets that they wished to achieve by the end of 2020, in an effort to preserve the variety of living species and ecosystems on earth. But as the deadline approaches, a new study released on Tuesday reports that none of the targets have been fully met.

The study, Global Diversity Outlook – published every five years by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – is a damning “final report card” for the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Of the 20 targets, only six have been “partially achieved.”

“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised,” said CBD’s Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema in a press release. “And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity.”

Biodiversity is critical for many aspects of sustainable development, including fighting climate change, food security and improved nutrition, clean water and even preventing pandemics.

“As nature degrades, new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating disease like this year’s coronavirus,” said Mrema.

Global Biodiversity
Outlook 5, Summary for Policymakers

Although the results of the study are discouraging, the authors of the study also point out that there has been significant progress on some fronts, without which biodiversity loss would be much worse. For example, 91 countries have incorporated biodiversity values into national accounting systems – double the number from 2006. The rate of deforestation has dropped by about a third compared to the previous decade. There is an “apparent increase” in people’s awareness of biodiversity, including knowledge of how to conserve it. And “the number of extinctions of birds and mammals would likely have been at least two to four times higher without conservation actions over the past decade,” according to the study.

Still, the study says, “species continue to move, on average, closer to extinction,” more than 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs are under threat, and efforts to improve biodiversity are not being implemented fast enough. Take financing, for example: Funding for biodiversity projects is estimated to be $78 to $91 billion per year. That’s far below the hundreds of billions needed, according to the study, and far, far below the $500 billion being spent on fossil fuels and other activities that are causing environmental degradation.

“Despite some progress, the loss of nature continues unabated, highlighting not only a failure of our moral duty to preserve Earth’s diversity of life, but also the undermining of the very natural systems that support human health and the global economy,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, in a press release.

“Importantly, the report also tells us that halting and reversing biodiversity loss is entirely possible, by protecting more of the remaining natural spaces, curbing wildlife overexploitation and, crucially, reforming the way we produce and consume food,” Lambertini added.

CBD describes the Aichi targets as “ambitious yet achievable” and lays out eight recommendations for halting business as usual, including greener city planning, more plant-based and sustainable food systems, and rapidly phasing out fossil-fuel use to curb climate change.

“We know what needs to be done, what works and how we can achieve good results,” said Inger Andersen UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme. “If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet.”

The findings of the study will be reviewed and discussed at the UN Summit on Biodiversity on September 30 – a headlining event of this year’s General Assembly, which will be held virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are looking for governments worldwide to adopt a new strategy on biodiversity,” says David Cooper, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.   “If we look at the poor performance to the last set of targets, it’s really because despite a lot of investment in conservation actions we are not getting the whole-of- government and whole-of-society responses needed. Engagement of heads of government is needed for this in order to get a whole of government approach.”

This summit is also the last major meeting on biodiversity ahead of the next major CBD gathering. New targets for 2021 to 2030 are under negotiation and will be unveiled in May at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (or COP 15) in Kunming, China.

“This summit at the UN is an opportunity for world leaders to demonstrate their commitment to [new targets] and hopefully put down some major national commitments to contribute to the longer term plan,”  says Cooper. 

With addition reporting from Mark Leon Goldberg