– The coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed the lives of over one million people worldwide and destabilized the global economy, also upended the UN’s ambitious socio-economic goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.
While extreme poverty rates have fallen in past years, says Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, “it is projected that between 70 and 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic”.
And by the end of 2020, she warned, an additional 265 million people could face acute food shortages.
According to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, ocean levels are rising quicker than expected, “putting some of our biggest and most economically important cities at risk”. More than two-thirds of the world’s megacities are located by the sea. And while the oceans are rising, they are also being poisoned,” Guterres warned.
And as the planet burns, one million species in the world’s eco-system are in near-term danger of extinction.
Meanwhile, the international community has failed to live up to its commitments – and meet all of its targets — on biodiversity
Just ahead of the first-ever UN Biodiversity Summit on September 30, Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly lamented the fact that none of the 20 biodiversity targets agreed by Member States in Aichi, Japan a decade ago, “have been fully achieved”.
“Words and good intentions are clearly not enough. They will not clean the oceans, save elephants, or prevent deforestation. Only our actions can do that,” he declared.
The recently-released United Nations’ Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 reveals that biodiversity is declining at record rates, and only six of the 20 goals laid out by 2010’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets have been “partially achieved.”
The study shows some areas of progress, but it found “the natural world is suffering badly and getting worse.” And if the world continues on its current trajectory, biodiversity– and the services it provides– will continue to decline, jeopardizing the achievement of the UN’s highly-touted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it warned.
Asked for the reasons for this shortfall, Dr. Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) told IPS the Global Outlook confirms and builds on the findings of the IPBES Global Assessment Report – including the new report-card on the progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity targets.
“One of the reasons for this shortfall is that we, collectively, including Governments, but also the private sector, have failed to seriously address the direct causes of biodiversity loss, including land use change (deforestation, urban sprawl etc.), overexploitation of resources (terrestrial and marine), and climate change, as well as the underlying causes, which relate to our economy, institutions, governance, and which are all deeply anchored in our values and behaviors.”
“We need to better understand and address the causes of these losses and act upon them. Another main reason is that considerations about biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people have still not been brought to the centre of decision-making,” she noted.
Dr. Larigauderie pointed out that the “health of our natural environment very directly influences almost every aspect of development – from food and water security, to livelihoods, health and even peace and security”.
To achieve SDGs requires nature to be a key consideration in decisions, policies, investments and actions across all parts of the economy and society.
“This is how we can achieve the transformative change needed to address our increasingly frayed relationship with the rest of nature”, she declared.
Meanwhile, a study released mid-September noted that, since 1993, and the Convention on Biodiversity, up to four dozen animal species have been saved.
This was done, said the President of the General Assembly, with local, national and international action and included habitat protection, species reintroduction, and legal protections, amongst other efforts.
“This demonstrates that we can deliver”, he declared.
The goal is to build political momentum for the Convention on Biodiversity’s Conference of the Parties (COP15), in Kunming, China in 2021, where world leaders will agree to an ambitious plan of action on biodiversity.
“Kunming needs to turn biodiversity into a household concern and political issue. Everyone must realize the risks of inaction,” said Bozkir.
Asked how devastating has been the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state of biodiversity worldwide, Dr. Larigauderie said direct impacts of the pandemic on global biodiversity are not yet well-researched – “but we are all aware of anecdotal evidence, both positive and negative, such as reports about the resurgence of nature in some areas and improved air quality, as well as increased waste related to disposal of personal protective equipment and the unfortunate and unjustified targeting of some species of wild animals”.
“But the way you phrase the question is also indicative of a challenge – the impact of COVID-19 on people and economies cannot be separated from a proper analysis of its impact on biodiversity, because the two are totally interlinked”.
She argued that lockdown has essentially halted eco-tourism in many areas, not only damaging livelihoods but also massively reducing resources available to conservation.
Stimulus packages to drive economic recovery contain within them either nature-positive measures or more regressive ones that could in fact raise the risk of future pandemics by accelerating nature loss, she declared.
IPS: What are your expectations of the UN’s first-ever Summit on Biodiversity which is aimed at providing political direction and momentum for the development of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework?
Dr.Larigauderie: To achieve the SDGs requires the implementation of an ambitious and well-resourced post-2020 biodiversity framework. The UN Nature Summit is the best opportunity for decision-makers in Government, the private sector and civil society to already raise the levels of ambition for the negotiations next year and to recommit to policies, decisions and actions informed by the best-available science and expertise.
IPS: How adequate is the proposed funding for actions related to biodiversity– estimated at between $78 – $91 billion per year– compared with the estimated $500 billion spent on fossil fuels and other subsidies that cause environmental degradation?
Dr. Larigauderie: The IPBES mandate is to provide evidence and policy options for better-informed decisions – we do not prescribe or make normative judgements. That said, the IPBES Assessment Report on Land Degradation and Restoration found, for instance, that on average, the benefits of restoration are 10 times higher than the costs, and, for some regions the cost of inaction in the face of land degradation is at least three times higher than the cost of action.
The IPBES Global Assessment Report also identified the removal of harmful incentives and the promotion of nature-positive ones as some of the specific possible actions that would drive transformative change for people and nature. Harmful subsidies include, for instance, Government grants for pesticides, to unsustainable fishing, and to fossil fuels, which all drive the loss of biodiversity.
IPS: Any indications of the new set of targets currently under negotiation, for 2021-2030, and to go before the 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention of Biological Diversity, scheduled to be held in Kunming, China, in May 2021?
Dr. Larigauderie: These are exactly the discussions that have started and will continue under the Open-Ended Working Group on the post-2020 biodiversity framework and which have already resulted in a publicly available zero-draft of the framework to be negotiated, and subsequent comments thereon.