Within our lifetimes, loss of species and habitats will have profound, potentially catastrophic impact on our ability to produce food and supply water. COP15, the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, takes place in December in Montreal, Canada. It will be attended by government representatives of 200 nations. The primary aim is to address the ongoing loss of biodiversity globally by agreeing a goal to halt its decline and start to restore nature by 2030. This would include committing to protecting 30% of land and sea for nature.
In support of this ‘30 x 30’ proposal, there are four key discussion areas on the agenda: the circular economy, regenerative farming, access to all for nature-based solutions to societal challenges, and sustainable forest management.
Nature loss is not just overseas. It is already severe in the UK; wildlife and habitats face multiple new threats including the removal or watering down of core environmental legislation, a failure to maintain and develop ecological subsidies for farmers (the Environmental Land Management Scheme), and the potential removal of incentives for property builders to consider biodiversity (the ‘net gain’ policy).
Globally, the abundance of all wildlife has declined by an average of 68% since 1970. According to the WWF Living Planet Report, not only are we losing a multitude of species on a daily basis, but, in some areas, entire ecosystems are at risk of being completely destroyed in the next 30-50 years. That means an end to glacial and polar ecosystems, the entire and permanent collapse of the Arctic ice sheet, and the collapse of our ocean systems as waters heat up and currents change, affecting ocean life. At the present rate of deforestation, all remaining rainforest biomes will be lost. The Amazon is already becoming a net emitter of carbon dioxide due to illegal burning.
Against this truly alarming global picture, COP15, much like COP27, must attempt the seemingly impossible. It must agree a rapid action plan to stop the decline of, and start restoring biodiversity by 2030. To be in any way credible, this needs to go beyond agreeing high level goals to agree time-bound targets and ways of keeping countries to them, such as a commitment to embed them in national laws. It must also agree on funding, particularly to help economically poorer countries protect the habitats we all increasingly depend on.
Achieving these outcomes will be an immense challenge in the current economic and global political climate. But one piece of good news is that the new president elect of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, has vowed to overturn the outgoing President Jair Bolsonaro’s disastrous policies towards the Amazon. Another is that politicians and the public are increasingly aware of the vital linkage between biodiversity loss and climate breakdown, and the disappointing results from COP27 on climate might provide a stronger spur to action on biodiversity now.
We need to be praying and urging our own government to back an ambitious and comprehensive agreement, with legally binding targets and funding. A good campaign where you can make your voice count is the RSPB’s Urgent Conversation. This advises the public to sign a petition asking our own government to be ambitious for the outcomes at COP15 and to follow through at home. You can add your name here.