Can nature have its Parisian moment?
This is the question faced by countries negotiating a new United Nations deal aimed at stemming the global loss of wildlife.
Last week, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity released the last draft an agreement that would unite countries around a common ambition to stop and reverse the decline in the diversity of life on earth.
Just as the Paris climate agreement set a target to limit the rise in global temperature, the new global biodiversity framework would set targets for the protection and restoration of nature.
Conservationists argue that Australia – as the only developed and megadiverse country to have ratified the treaty – should be a leader in the process. Instead, they say, it operates with what one negotiating observer has described as “the middle of the pack.”
What is the proposed deal?
The agreement would set new ambitions for nature after 2020 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. It would replace the existing targets that were set in Aichi, Japan, in 2010.
This would be articulated as a series of milestones and goals to be achieved over decades, with an ultimate goal of living in harmony with nature by 2050.
Scientists have warned that human activity is behind the sixth mass extinction, threatening a million species and the healthy functioning of ecosystems that produce food and water and support human life.
The latest project proposes milestones to be reached by 2030 to improve our relationship with nature.
They include a global step to protect 30% of all land and 30% of all marine areas, halve the introduction and establishment of invasive species, cut government subsidies for industries that harm wildlife 500 billion dollars a year, completely eliminate plastic waste and reduce the use of pesticides by two-thirds.
There are also goals for reducing the risk of extinction by 10% and for countries to find ways to factor the benefits that nature offers to society in their accounts. And then there are bigger goals to be achieved by 2050, including a tenfold reduction in the extinction rate and a halving of the extinction rate. risk extinction for all species.
By 2050, countries should show that nature’s contribution to humans is properly valued, maintained and enhanced through conservation and a much more sustainable approach to development.
The deal was due to be reached later this year at a conference of the parties in Kunming, China. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is expected to be delayed and negotiations will continue until 2022.
Call for more ambition
The response to the project has been mixed.
One of the longstanding criticisms of the Convention on Biological Diversity is that the targets are not restrictive over the nations.
James Watson is a professor in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Queensland. In a comment this week, he and his colleagues argued that the deal needs more ambition.
He says the latest version, although an improvement over previous versions, does not come close to what is needed to achieve the goal of living in harmony with nature and he notes that countries have largely failed. to meet previous Aichi targets.
“What we do know is that many countries are celebrating the signing of these 10-year plans and then spending the next few years playing it so they don’t have to do anything to meet the goals they set for themselves.” , he said.
Much has been said that the proposed deal could represent a Parisian moment for nature, uniting countries around a singular goal.
For the climate agreement, it was a question of limiting global warming to well below 2C and preferably 1.5C.
“One of the things we hope to achieve from this process and this project is the one clear goal for nature that equates to the 1.5C goal that unites nations around the world,” said Rachel Lowry, head of conservation at WWF Australia. .
“Zero extinction was presented as a potential and this is where this framework fails.”
WWF has been an observer and participant in international negotiations and says the proposal to increase the extinction rate tenfold by 2050 does not go far enough.
He wants a commitment to zero extinction by 2050 and a halving of the impacts of unsustainable food production.
Lowry said such goals, combined with the 30% protection targets for land and sea by 2030, could lead to significant changes.
“Stop the decline. How can we subscribe to anything less than that? ” she says.
“We are essentially committed to a future with less cash wealth. How can we do this for future generations?
James Trezise, director of conservation for the Invasive Species Council, said one of the outcomes of the negotiations is that countries appear to be reaching consensus that the world is facing an extinction crisis.
“The UN hopes to create a Parisian moment for nature conservation, but it will need to have more ambition and a clearer call to action that resonates with the community to get there,” he said.
Australia’s role in the negotiations
There are 17 megadiverse countries in the world. Australia and the United States are the only two megadiverse developed countries and the United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Megadiverse countries are highly regarded in the convention and Australia is supposed to show leadership.
Nat Pelle of the Australian Conservation Foundation says that on the international stage Australia is not currently “the biodiversity pariah we are on the climate” and is well respected at the convention.
“What we cannot afford is to get to Kunming and undermine the global biodiversity targets that nature needs when we have the real potential, and more reasons than most, to be one of the leaders, ”he said.
The government and its negotiators have a good reputation in the forum for commitments related to marine protection, plastic waste reduction, and the creation and funding of indigenous protected areas.
But the country’s record of mammal extinctions is well known, and the government has shown reluctance to commit to specific targets for stopping extinctions.
There was another sticking point. The current draft of the agreement sets a disaggregated goal to protect 30% of the world’s land and 30% of sea areas by 2030 – known as the 30×30 goal.
In June, the Morrison government joined an international coalition of countries – known as the High Ambition Coalition – that pledged to strike a global deal to end biodiversity loss.
At that time, the government advocated a global goal to protect 30% of land and sea areas combined by 2030.
This is important for a country like Australia, which has an extensive marine protection system that already protects 36.7% of the country’s sea areas. The land area protected is 19.7%.
An aggregate overall target of 30% would significantly reduce the work the government needs to do to increase protections on land.
The office of Environment Minister Sussan Ley told Guardian Australia the government now supports a disaggregated global target, noting that it is a relatively new addition to the project.
But it is not clear if this means that he would then support the definition of a national target to increase the amount of land Australia has protected to 30%.
Pelle notes that the current wording of the draft global target could mean that some countries would do more and others less in terms of national land and sea protections.
“Australia, as a rich country that is mega-diverse, truly large and sparsely populated, has an obligation to do its fair share and that means protecting at least 30% of our own land,” he says.
Ley spokesperson said the government was considering what many of the proposed steps would mean for Australia.
“This is at the start of the process of drafting the new post-2020 global biodiversity framework and Australia is committed to addressing the challenges biodiversity faces through a disaggregated global target,” a- he declared.
“The inclusion of a 30×30 disaggregated global goal is a new addition to the draft framework, which was released on July 12, 2021.”
The spokesperson said a target to halve the risk of extinction for all species was another new addition to the project and that the government was considering what this could mean for Australia, which has nearly 2,000 species and habitats currently listed as threatened.
“The minister remains committed to recovering endangered species and preventing species from becoming extinct,” he said.
He highlighted the recently launched 10-year endangered species strategy and funding through regional land partnerships, the environmental restoration fund, indigenous protected areas and $ 200 million in bushfire recovery funding. for wildlife.
Trezise says that whatever the outcome of the UN process, Australia currently has the opportunity to improve conservation and address threats to wildlife as part of its response to Graeme Samuel’s review of Australian national environmental laws.
“The world is clearly coming to a consensus that we are facing a global extinction crisis. The reality is that the best time to start strengthening our environmental planning frameworks was yesterday, ”he said.