The survival of our planet is at stake at COP15
Governments have shown less political will to support biodiversity conservation targets than for climate targets, but the two are actually interdependent and should be tackled together to reach our 1.5°C goal. COP15 is a crucial opportunity for them to adopt a bold Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and achieve a nature-positive world by 2030.
What is COP15?
The Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty that aims to conserve biological diversity globally and to ensure its sustainable and equitable use . Signed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, it has been ratified by 196 countries since then. As for most international treaties, signatories meet regularly to make decisions about how they are implemented at the COPs (Conference of the Parties). COP15, which will take place from 7 to 19 December, is therefore the 15th Conference of the Parties of the CBD.
COP15 is a critical milestone for nature and people around the world. Negotiations will focus on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) which could put 30% of land and sea area under protection globally (30 by 30 target) and encourage the restoration of degraded ecosystems. It is an opportunity for world leaders to step up and show their commitment to halting global biodiversity loss and support the crucial benefits biodiversity brings to people.
Why is biodiversity important for us and why is it threatened?
The term biodiversity describes the enormous variety of life on earth. The CBD defines ‘biological diversity’ as the variability among living organisms from terrestrial, marine, and other ecosystems and the complexity of ecosystems of which they are a part1.
Although these definitions might seem remote and abstract, biodiversity surrounds and supports all aspects of our lives. We depend on biodiversity for what we call ‘ecosystem services’, which are the direct and indirect benefits people derive from ecosystems such as food, wood for energy, air quality and water purification. The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) refers to the ‘vital contributions of nature to people’ which embody biodiversity and ecosystem services together2.
On top of what they provide us, these ecosystems have considerable economic value. In the EU alone, their economic value amounted to €234 billion in 2019, which is comparable to the gross value of agriculture and forestry combined3.
Biodiversity is also a crucial ally in the fight against climate change. Climate change, as well as being a direct driver of loss, is exacerbating the impacts of other types of pressures on biodiversity, such as extreme weather events and sea level rise. Protecting and restoring ecosystems is crucial for climate mitigation and adaptation as healthy ecosystems have better carbon storage and sequestration tools and are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
As nature’s services and contributions are increasingly exploited and provided to people around the globe, ecosystems are suffering as they bear the costs of this over-exploitation. 14 of the 18 assessed ecosystem services have declined since 1970 according to IPBES2. This decline has catastrophic impacts on nature but also on people since it hinders nature’s ability to provide ecosystem services. A conservative estimate of a collapse of services such as wild pollination and food provision would result in a 2.3% decline in global GDP (valued at $2.7 trillion) in 20304.
Human activities have such extreme impacts on biodiversity that 25% of animal and plant species are threatened and one million species face extinction. The five main pressures on biodiversity are land and sea use change, direct exploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species2. They are all directly linked to human activities.
The available scientific evidence has demonstrated that we are in the midst, or at least on the brink of, the Earth’s sixth mass extinction5-7. Surely, based on the range of services that nature provides us, we should be putting all of our efforts and means to fight this major crisis.
If we depend on biodiversity so much, then why are we not talking more about COP15?
COP15 was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming, China in October 2020, a year labeled as the ‘super year for biodiversity’. The COP was postponed two times because of the Covid-19 pandemic and had to be relocated to Montreal. These delays and other major events since then, mainly the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have put a strain on the COP negotiations and put biodiversity conservation on the back burner.
The last round of negotiations in Nairobi in June 2022 has shown a lack of political will to commit to robust targets to cut biodiversity loss in the next decade. Parties must commit to ambitious and measurable science-based targets, as well as pathways for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. They are expected to come up with a strong monitoring and reporting framework that allows progress to be measured, as they have failed to reach one single target set for 2010-2020, called the Aichi targets8.
Governments have shown less political will to support biodiversity targets than climate targets. COP15 provides an opportunity to ‘save two birds with one nest’ (pun intended) and adopt biodiversity protection targets that contribute to reaching the 1.5°C goal, such as protecting and restoring carbon-rich ecosystems.
What can COP15 do for biodiversity?
COP15, which has been labeled the ‘Paris agreement for nature', provides a crucial opportunity for governments worldwide to wake up and agree on significant measures to achieve a nature-positive world by 2030.
Such an ambitious plan needs to be properly funded. It is estimated that the achievement of the targets would require an investment of at least $200 billion per year. Significant funding from all sources (public and private) must be mobilised by all parties on a continuous basis up to 2030. The EU has committed to doubling external funding for biodiversity, in particular to vulnerable countries.
The world will be looking at leaders and negotiators in Montreal in December. They might be carrying a heavy burden, but the outcome of this COP could be the beginning of a major victory in the struggle for the survival of our planet. Let’s not miss this opportunity.
1 Convention on Biological Diversity
2 IPBES, Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. 2019, IPBES secretariat: Bonn, Germany.
3 Vysna, V., et al., Accounting for ecosystems and their services in the European Union (INCA). 2021, Publications Office of the European Union: Luxembourg.
4 Johnson, J., et al., The Economic Case for Nature - A global Earth-economy model to assess development policy pathways. 2021, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank
5 Ceballos, G., P.R. Ehrlich, and P.H. Raven, Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction. 2020. 117(24): p. 13596-13602.
6 Barnosky, A.D., et al., Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature, 2011. 471(7336): p. 51-57.
7 Cowie, R.H., P. Bouchet, and B. Fontaine, The Sixth Mass Extinction: fact, fiction or speculation? 2022. 97(2): p. 640-663.
8 CBD, Fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 5). 2020, Convention on Biological Diversity: Montreal.