‘We get it done. Come hell, high water or Covid ‘: Can 2022 be a super year for nature? | Biodiversity

It should be a “super year for nature”: 2020 should be “a great opportunity to bring nature back from the brink”. But then the coronavirus pandemic set in, and long-standing plans to tackle the environmental crisis kick-started in Davos in January, with the financial elite emphasizing the risk of global warming and the loss of biodiversity to human civilization never materialized. The largest biodiversity summit in a decade, Cop15 in Kunming, China, where world leaders were expected to reach an agreement to halt and reverse the destruction of ecosystems by reaching a Paris-style nature agreement, was postponed to 2021. Cop26- the climate summit was also postponed for a year.

As we enter 2022, there has still not been a super year for nature. Basic negotiations for the Cop15 biodiversity meeting in China, the little sister to the climate convention, are likely to be delayed a fourth time due to the Omicron variant. Preparatory talks scheduled for January 2022 in Geneva have been pushed back – again – until March in a process that feels more and more cursed despite the organizers’ best efforts.

Questions and answers

What is the Kunming Biodiversity Conference?

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At Cop15 – the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – governments will negotiate new goals to protect biodiversity this decade. The agreement, “a Paris Agreement for Nature”, aims to curb the violent loss of biodiversity around the world and is part of the UN’s overall plan for humanity to live in harmony with nature by 2050. The summit was originally intended to takes place in October 2020, but after several delays, it is hoped that a face-to-face meeting will take place in 2022.

Why is it a big deal?
Time is running out to act. An international group of scientists, including Professor Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, warned in January 2021 that the planet faces an “eerie future of mass extinction, declining health and climate change” that threatens human survival. The world has not reached a single goal adopted a decade ago to curb the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.

Are only governments concerned?
No. At the World Economic Forum 2021, business leaders said that biodiversity loss was the third largest existential or long-term threat to the world and was among the top five risks in terms of impact along with infectious diseases, climate change and weapons. mass destruction and natural resource crises.

What can the Kunming agreement look like?
In January 2021, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity published a 21-point draft agreement. It obliges the signatories to protect at least 30% of the planet, control invasive species and reduce pollution from plastic waste and excess nutrients by 50%. Governments have yet to properly negotiate the draft targets.

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“We’ll get it done. Come to hell, high water… or Covid. I do not know when and how,” said Basile van Havre, co-chair of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) working group responsible for drafting Cop15. The 21-point draft includes targets to eliminate plastic pollution, reduce pesticide consumption by two-thirds and halve the number of invasive species introductions, with the aim of reducing the number of extinctions and protecting life-sustaining ecosystems.

In the midst of the delays, warnings about the planet’s health have not disappeared. Scientists say that the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is underway and accelerating, driven by human behavior. One million plant and animal species could disappear, according to a UN report followed by leading researchers, who also found that the biomass of wild mammals has fallen by 82% and natural ecosystems have lost about half of their area. During the pandemic, the destruction of the world’s forests increased sharply. Dangerous levels of greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the Earth’s atmosphere as humans consume beyond planetary boundaries. And yet the governments of the world have missed every single goal they have set themselves to avert the destruction of the natural world.

“It’s like a debt you do not pay back. You keep accumulating interest and it has to be paid back at some point,” says van Havre. “The later you wait, the more expensive it becomes.”

The bodies of six giraffes on the ground at the Sabuli Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya
The bodies of six giraffes at the Sabuli Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya on December 10, victims of the country’s drought. Scientists warn that the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth is underway, driven by human behavior. Photo: Ed Ram / Getty Images

CBD dealers last met in person in February 2020 in Rome when the pandemic took hold. In May 2021, representatives from the 196 Contracting Parties embarked on an exhausting schedule of online conversations to get back on track, and met six days a week for three hours until mid-June. Negotiators for Pacific Island states were among those attending the video calls in the early hours due to meeting times.

From there, hopes rose that the process could finally be completed. A ceremonial opening of Cop15 in Kunming, split in two due to the delays, took place in October, when China took over the presidency, the first time Beijing is hosting a major UN environment conference. A group of philanthropists, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $ 5 billion to protect 30% of the planet by the end of the decade. Emphasis was placed on nature and biodiversity at Cop26 with side agreements on deforestation and a mention of nature in the Glasgow Pact. Then again, the pandemic had other plans.

“Covid is obviously a curse. Can you imagine if Omicron happened a month earlier and what would have happened to Glasgow. But as it always seems to be the case, CBD was the unlucky one,” said Li Shuo, a political adviser to Greenpeace East Asia, who says he will follow the Covid protocols closely at the Beijing Winter Olympics to assess the likely restrictions on delegates in Kunming Part Two.

Although Cop15 may personally remain in doubt, the plans for the first IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (APAC) to be held in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2022, are still on track so far. The summit promises to be “the first worldwide gathering of African leaders, citizens and interest groups ever to discuss the role of protected areas in conserving nature”.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, UN Head of Biodiversity, speaks at the closing ceremony of the first part of COP15 in Kunming in October.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, UN Head of Biodiversity, speaks at the closing ceremony of the first part of Cop15 in Kunming in October. Photo: Xinhua / REX / Shutterstock

If 2022 is to finally become a super year for nature, experts say that three main things must happen. Firstly, the countries must conclude an agreement on Cop15 – whenever it happens – which reflects the crisis in the natural world, and most importantly, they must stick to it. Second, nature needs an elegant North Star similar to the 1.5C and 2C climate goals that everyone can pursue, from companies and governments to NGOs and citizens. Finally, 2022 must be the year in which the world adopts a single strategy to tackle the three environmental conventions agreed almost 30 years ago at the Rio de Janeiro Summit. Researchers are aware that the climate crisis, destruction of nature and desertification cannot be tackled in isolation, and countries should follow the example of Uruguay, which is developing a combined approach.

Resolving divisions between developed and developing countries from Cop26 will be key if there is to be a Paris-style agreement for nature, says van Havre, stressing the role of civil society in the negotiations and “the confidence or lack of around 100 billion in climate funding from developed countries… There are consequences.

“NGOs were important in raising the ambitions of Cop26 in Glasgow. It is a clear signal of what we will need in Kunming. We will need them to be able to communicate with delegates on the ground, not elsewhere.” he adds.

Despite support from dozens of nations to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, countries including South Africa argue that a lower number should be included in the final Kunming agreement. Ambition for targets regarding plastic pollution, pesticide use and harmful subsidies will also be weighed against financial obligations, expert commentators say.

In terms of a rhetorical north star for nature, many in the biodiversity community continue to search for a coherent expression. “Nature positive”, a phrase increasingly used by companies and governments, lacks a formal definition and will include more complicated measurements than its climate equivalents. Leading fossil fuel companies, such as BP and TotalEnergies, have begun to develop strategies for their projects to have a positive impact on biodiversity.

“I think we need to recognize that unlike climate change, where 1.5C is a target, biodiversity is more complex,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the UN’s biodiversity chief. “A number of factors will make some nature positive or not: land, sea, climate change, chemicals, pollution, invasive species. All this increases the complexity. It will be difficult to have what is equivalent to 1.5C. ”

But Eva Zabey, director of Business for Nature, says that perfection cannot be the enemy of good when it comes to developing a system that companies and civil society can follow for nature.

“In my opinion, nature positive corresponds to net zero, which is not in the text of the Paris Agreement, but is a way to make it more accessible,” says Zabey. “We do not have to wait for a framework to start the action. There are some “no regrets” actions that companies should take now. Make sure your supply chain is free of deforestation, for example. There is no reason not to start innovating new products and investing in protecting and restoring ecosystems. “

Officials have begun to hint at the need for another ground summit to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. Some developing countries seek to separate biodiversity and climate issues through UN negotiations in the hope of double funding flows. But Britain and France have begun allocating climate finance to biodiversity, indicating how intertwined the problems are. Maintaining the coherence between climate, biodiversity and desertification treaties will be key, Mrema says.

‘If these three conventions were to be negotiated today, there would probably be only one treaty. At the time, the world was looking at questions in silos. Time and time again, scientists have reminded us that it does not work. Taking care of the soil will take care of biodiversity and help the climate, e.g. Likewise, we can not dissect when it comes to implementation, ”she says.

Britain's Alok Sharma, president of Cop26, in talks with US climate envoy John Kerry and Swiss delegate Simonetta Sommaruga in Glasgow in November.
Britain’s Alok Sharma, president of Cop26 (center), in talks with US climate envoy John Kerry (left) and Swiss delegate Simonetta Sommaruga (right) in Glasgow in November. Photo: Tim Hammond / No10 Downing Street

Do we need a new summit? “It could be an important question to ask ourselves,” Mrema says.

As to whether these issues will be resolved by Kunming Part 2 next year, Li Shuo says the Chinese presidency may need to find its own Alok Sharma (Cop26 president) or Archie Young (leading climate negotiator for Britain) to have any hope about making it a super year for nature.

He says: “How do they translate a mandate at the political level into the technical dirt? That’s a big question. Will we move to a period where they do? Or will we see it under the policeman?”

Find more coverage for age of extinction here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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