Mega UN meetings may herald ‘super’ year for nature

January 30, 2021
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TWO United Nations (UN) mega meetings on biodiversity and climate change next year are expected to set new targets and reaffirm old pledges.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has scheduled its 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, the United Kingdom, a summit that will serve as a de facto deadline for countries to increase their 2030 goals under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Meanwhile, talks are underway on revised global targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), scheduled for agreement in Kunming, China, at the 15th meeting of the convention’s member nations (COP15).

The Covid-19 pandemic had upended these critical meetings originally scheduled for fall, 2020. Notwithstanding those delays, towards the end of this year, we saw many activities that help prepare a strong foundation for progress next year.

Between the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September and the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement on Dec 12, significant new commitments to climate action were made by high-emitting countries like China and from leading subnational actors like California.

United States President-elect Joe Biden has committed to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and restoring American climate and environmental leadership. In the nature arena, the UN Summit on Biodiversity, on Sept 30, underlined the need to establish a successful and ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at the CBD’s COP15.

Like the Paris accord, such an agreement will contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and put the global community closer to realising its agreed Vision for Biodiversity, “Living in harmony with nature”, by 2050.

During the virtual summit, leaders expressed concern that while many of the 60 elements within the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010 were achieved, no target was fully met worldwide by this year’s deadline, with millions of hectares of forest lost since the decadal targets were agreed, and a million species now facing extinction.

In the last 50 years, vertebrate populations have declined by more than two thirds. To continue is to lose not only natural riches, but also security of food and water supplies, livelihoods and our ability to fight diseases and face extreme events.

Summit participants noted that more than half of the world’s gross domestic product — US$44 trillion — depends on nature. According to the World Economic Forum, “biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse” ranks among the top five threats facing the world today.

UNGA president Volkan Bozkir called on member states to build political momentum for a strong new framework under the CBD.

Kunming, he said, must do for biodiversity what Paris did for climate change in 2015, elevating discourse on the subject to mainstream society and placing it firmly on the political agenda.

Many summit participants pointed to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, signed to date by 92 countries and the European Union, as a promising sign of gathering momentum for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Signatories commit their nation to a transition to sustainable production and consumption, mainstreaming biodiversity, ending environmental crimes and strengthening implementation. The High Ambition Coalition, led by Costa Rica and France, called for the protection of 30 per cent of the planet by 2030, with a similar target for oceans advocated by the Global Oceans Alliance.

However, the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature is missing the signatures of leaders from megadiverse countries, including Australia, the US, China, Brazil, India and Asean members. Some suggested this is due to the pandemic, but it may also be because the issue remains a hidden crisis.

Its direct and irrefutable links to the pandemic, with stark warnings of more to come more frequently, are not yet widely recognised or appreciated. Covid-19, like Zika, Ebola and the human immunodeficiency virus, is just the latest in a series of infectious diseases that originate from animal populations under environmental pressure. Experts say 60 per cent of such illnesses originate this way.

After all we have been through this year, we cannot allow another pandemic to happen before accepting the warnings and activating the political will required to create adequate, science-based protections of nature and avert a comparable catastrophe.

That’s why, with the two UN meetings next year, it is hoped they will herald a “super” year for nature.

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