Can nature have its own Paris moment?
This is the question facing countries negotiating a new United Nations treaty aimed at reducing the loss of wildlife around the world.
Last week, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity released the latest draft agreement that aims to unite countries behind the common goal of halting and reversing the decline in the diversity of life on earth.
Much like the Paris Climate Agreement set a goal to limit global temperature increases, the new global framework for biodiversity would set goals for the protection and restoration of nature.
Environmentalists argue that Australia – as the only developed, mega-diverse country to ratify the treaty – should lead the process. Instead, they say, what one observer of the negotiations called “the middle of the pack” is doing.
What is the proposed agreement?
The agreement would set new ambitions for nature after 2020 within the framework of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. It would replace existing goals set in Aichi, Japan in 2010.
This would be formulated as a series of milestones and goals to be achieved over decades, with the ultimate goal of living in harmony with nature by 2050.
Scientists have warned that human activities are fueling the sixth mass extinction, threatening one million species and the healthy functioning of ecosystems that produce food and water, and support human life.
The latest draft suggests milestones to be reached by 2030 to improve our relationship with nature.
They include a global milestone to protect 30% of all land and 30% of all marine areas, halve the introduction and establishment of invasive species, reduce public subsidies to industries that damage wildlife by 500 billion pesticide use by two thirds.
There are also goals to reduce the risk of extinction by 10% and for countries to find ways to include nature’s benefits to society in their balance sheets. And then bigger goals need to be met by 2050, including a tenfold increase in the rate of extinction and a halving of that risk from extinction for all species.
By 2050, countries are expected to demonstrate that nature’s contribution to people is properly valued, preserved and enhanced through conservation and a much more sustainable approach to development.
The agreement should be reached later this year at a party conference in Kunming, China. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this is expected to be delayed and negotiations to continue until 2022.
Calls for more ambition
The response to the draft has been mixed.
One of the longstanding criticisms of the Convention on Biological Diversity is that goals are not binding on nations.
James Watson is a professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. In a comment this week, he and his colleagues argued that the deal requires more ambition.
He says that while the latest draft is an improvement over previous iterations, it does not come close to what is required to achieve the goal of living in harmony with nature, and notes that the lands of the earlier Aichi Largely missed goals.
“What we do know is that many nations celebrate signing these 10 year plans and then spend the next few years playing them so they don’t have to do anything to achieve the goals they set,” he says.
Much has been said that the proposed deal could represent a Paris-style moment for nature, uniting countries behind a single goal.
For the climate agreement, global warming should be limited to well below 2 ° C, preferably 1.5 ° C.
“One of the things we hope for out of this process and design is the only clear goal for nature that meets the 1.5 degree goal that unites nations around the world,” said Rachel Lowry, Chief Conservation Officer at WWF Australia.
“Zero extinction was cited as a potential, and this framework falls short here.”
WWF is an observer and participant in the international negotiations and says the proposal to increase the rate of extinction tenfold by 2050 does not go far enough.
It wants to commit to zero extinction and halving the impact of unsustainable food production by 2050.
Lowry said such goals, combined with the 30% land and sea goals, could lead to significant changes by 2030.
“Stop the decline. How do we sign up for less than that? ”She says.
“We are basically entering into a future with less biodiversity. How can we do that for future generations? “
James Trezise, the Conservation Director of the Invasive Species Council, says one result of the negotiations is that countries seem to come to a consensus that the world is facing an extinction crisis.
“The UN hopes to create a Paris Conservation Moment, but it needs more ambition and a clearer call to action that resonates with the community,” he says.
Australia’s role in the negotiations
There are 17 mega-diverse countries in the world. Australia and the United States are the only two developed megadiversity countries, and the United States has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Megadiverse countries are held in high regard within the Convention, and Australia is expected to take a leading role.
Nat Pelle of the Australian Conservation Foundation says that Australia is not “the pariah in biodiversity as we are in climate” on the international stage and is very respected at the convention.
“What we cannot afford to show up in Kunming and undermine the global biodiversity goals that nature needs if we have the real potential and more reasons than most to be a pioneer,” he says.
The government and its negotiators have a good reputation in the forum for commitments to marine conservation, to reduce plastic waste, and to establish and finance indigenous protected areas.
But the country’s record of mammal extinction is well known, and the government has shown a reluctance to commit to specific goals to curb the extinction.
There was another sticking point. The current draft agreement sets an itemized target to protect 30% of land and 30% of marine areas worldwide by 2030 – known as the 30×30 target.
In June, the Morrison government signed an international coalition of countries known as the High Ambition Coalition, which pledged to reach global agreement to stop biodiversity loss.
At that time, the government advocated an aggregate target to protect 30% of land and sea areas by 2030.
This is significant for a country like Australia, which has a huge marine protection system that already protects 36.7% of the country’s marine areas. The proportion of the protected terrestrial area is 19.7%.
An aggregate global target of 30% would significantly reduce the government’s work to improve land protection.
Environment Secretary Sussan Ley’s office told Guardian Australia the government now supports a disaggregated global target, noting that it is a relatively new addition to the draft.
However, it is unclear whether this means that the setting is then a. would support domestic Aim to increase the amount of land protected by Australia to 30%.
Pelle points out that the current wording of the draft global target could mean that some countries would do more and others less on the protection of inland and oceans.
“Australia, as a rich country that is mega-diverse, really big and sparsely populated, has a duty to do its fair share, and that means protecting at least 30% of our own country,” he says.
Ley’s spokesman said the government was considering what many of the proposed milestones would mean for Australia.
“This is early in the design process of the new global biodiversity framework for the post-2020 period, and Australia is committed to addressing biodiversity challenges through a disaggregated global goal,” he said.
“The inclusion of a disaggregated 30×30 global target is a new addition to the draft framework published on July 12, 2021.”
The spokesman said a goal to cut the risk of extinction for all species in half is another new addition to the draft, and the government is considering what that could mean for Australia, which currently has nearly 2,000 species and habitats classified as threatened.
“The minister continues to work to save threatened species and prevent species extinction,” he said.
He referred to the recently launched 10-year endangered species strategy and funding from regional land partnerships, the Environmental Restoration Fund, Indigenous Sanctuaries, and the $ 200 million wild animal bush fire restoration funding.
Trezise says regardless of the outcome of the UN process, Australia now has an opportunity to improve conservation and address threats to wildlife as part of its response to the Graeme Samuel review of Australia’s 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 framework was yesterday, ”he said.