Explanation: What to expect from the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity
SINGAPORE, October 8 (Reuters) – World leaders will meet virtually next week to discuss protecting nature across the planet and experts say there is no time to waste. Animal and plant species are disappearing at a rate not seen for 10 million years.
Losses are accelerating, scientists say, in large part due to climate change, deforestation, pollution, overfishing and urban development. To limit the losses, the United Nations has urged countries to pledge to keep 30% of their land, nearly double the area now in some form of protection.
About 70 countries have pledged to meet the goal, which would include about a third of the world’s land plants and animals, according to the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People.
China begins hosting the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, in the city of Kunming on Monday, with most discussions taking place online due to COVID-related restrictions. read more A second round will take place next year.
WHY ARE WE CONCERNED ABOUT BIODIVERSITY?
Biodiversity describes the variety of life on Earth, from frogs and mushrooms to forests. The more life there is in an area, the “richer” its biodiversity is.
Together, an area’s community of plants and animals – and the complex relationships between them – make up an ecosystem and perform functions that help make the planet habitable. Almost half of the world’s human population directly depends on nature – from fish to forests – for a living.
Nature “sustains all of our society and our economy,” said environmental lawyer Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. Losing nature “reduces the ability of the planet to provide all of these benefits to society.”
WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY LOSS?
Earth has experienced five mass extinction events and scientists believe we are in the middle of a sixth, with around 1 million species now on the brink.
The last 150 years of industrial activity and human development have upset the relationship between plants and animals. Climate change is one of the results of this disruption. Another is the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by a virus that has passed from wildlife to humans.
Climate change is also making life more difficult for many species – pushing temperatures to new beaches, triggering natural disasters and transforming landscapes in ways that animals and plants find it difficult to adapt.
Even without climate change, nature has been drastically altered by humans, with just 3% of the Earth’s land surface unblemished, according to an April study in the journal Frontiers.
In the oceans, more than a third of shark and ray species are on the brink of extinction, according to conservation organization IUCN. Coral reefs are quickly dying in marine heat waves and fish stocks are threatened by overfishing.
The World Wildlife Fund blames $ 500 billion a year in government grants to industries that pollute or degrade nature, including fossil fuels, agriculture and fishing. For years, the World Trade Organization has been stuck on a proposal to end the $ 35 billion in fisheries subsidies around the world.
WHAT MUST BE DONE TO SAVE NATURE?
In short, political will and money.
Governments must designate conservation areas and then enforce them. Only 17% of the Earth’s land surface and 7% of the ocean now fall under some form of protection.
It will take around $ 1 trillion a year to build sustainable supply chains and help countries protect nature in other ways – far more than the $ 150 billion spent on such action in 2019, said the former banker Rémy Rioux, who now heads the French Development Agency.
Much of this funding is expected to come from private capital and asset owners driven by regulatory pressures to invest, said Anita McBain, head of independent ESG research in Europe and the Middle East for Citi Group.
“We are seeing the emergence of new investment solutions in all geographies and in all asset classes,” said McBain. “Investors are realizing that the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action.”
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM NEXT WEEK’S MEETING?
The last global wildlife protection goals were set in 2010 in Aichi, Japan.
“None of the Aichi targets have been met,” Mrema said. Still, progress has been made, especially in realizing that financiers and industry need to be involved, she said.
It is not known whether countries will announce new conservation commitments. US President Joe Biden is working to engage in the UN campaign.
China also wants ministers to adopt a “Kunming Declaration” on biodiversity. The latest draft calls for a new “ambitious and transformative” global biodiversity agreement and recognizes the commitments made by many countries to protect 30% of their territory.
China is protecting 25% of its territory under its so-called ecological protection program, but it is not clear whether it will commit to the 30% target.
People should see the meeting “as a unique opportunity for the world to agree on what needs to be done for nature,” said Guido Broekhoven, head of policy and research at WWF.
Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Additional reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai Editing by Katy Daigle and Robert Birsel
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