Shining the spotlight on the biodiversity crisis – a new global deal for nature

By Emma Lui

On 17 November 2018 the UN Biodiversity Conference opened in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt and marks 25 years since the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) 1992 entered into force.  For attendees from the CBD’s 196 Parties, the ambitious two-week agenda aims both to celebrate this milestone and to continue striving for fulfillment of the CBD’s objectives.  It includes the 14th biennial meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the CBD, the ninth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and the third meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, among other parallel forums and discussions on conservation and sustainability.

The importance of this conference cannot be understated.  With only two years left in the commitment period for the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, renewed commitments and zealous efforts from decision-makers to achieve those global goals are urgently needed.  Delegates must also begin crucial negotiations on the new post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and set out practical and purposeful plans to meet the CBD’s 2050 vision of ‘living in harmony with nature’. This new global deal for nature could be another Paris Agreement moment for environmental law, and deliver an ambitious international roadmap to tackle the world’s biodiversity crisis.

Can it be done?  In WWF’s latest ‘Living Planet Index’, published on 30 October 2018, scientists provide alarming and ominous evidence that human pressures have already driven a 60% loss in wildlife populations over the past four decades.  Anthropogenic consumption and activities have also contributed to land and soil degradation, water pollution, extreme weather events, habitat destruction, and the disruption of ecosystems. As the world population continues to grow, so too will the threats we pose to the natural environment.

Additionally, in March 2018 the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a series of scientific assessment reportswhich revealed that less than a quarter of land on Earth is currently free from substantial human impacts.  This is projected to decline to just a tenth by 2050, and will be mostly in environments unsuitable for human use or settlement (such as deserts, tundra, and polar areas).

It is clear that this biodiversity crisis cannot be tackled in isolation from climate change and sustainable development challenges.  This is recognised in ever increasing public calls for action and in recent demonstrations by civilian activists like Extinction Rebellion in the UK, Rise for Climate in the USA, and mass student walk-outs in Australia.  But strong momentum and transformative leadership are needed at political and lawmaker levels to make the policy changes necessary to mitigate climate change impacts and stem the deep decline of biodiversity loss.  Otherwise, the future for our natural world is bleak if nothing is done.