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OPINION: Everyone is needed in the new global push to protect nature

Thursday, 18 February 2021 18:00 GMT

Indigenous leader Ninawa Huni Kui and members of 350.org attend a protest against the auction of oil and gas blocks in the Amazon, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An ambitious international agreement to protect biodiversity is within reach - but if it is to succeed, business and civil society must play their part, alongside governments

The crisis facing nature has never been more apparent. The costs to mankind of our degradation of the natural world have never been more evident. Fortunately, the beginnings of a meaningful response – in the form of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework – is close at hand. 

But, for that framework to succeed, governments must ensure broad participation in its formal processes. Non-state actors – sub-national governments, business and the financial sector, academia, civil society, youth and indigenous peoples and local communities – have a critical role to play in delivering biodiversity outcomes. 

There is no denying the urgency of the challenge. As the IPBES Global Assessment warned, an estimated one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. WWF’s Living Planet Report found that global wildlife is in freefall

The crisis in nature has direct impacts on human society and prosperity. As the World Economic Forum’s Nature Risk Rising report points out, more than half of the world’s total gross domestic product, or $44 trillion, involves activities that are moderately or highly dependent on nature. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the greatest shock to the global economy since records began, has exposed our exposure to zoonotic diseases jumping from stressed animal populations, habitat and ecosystem loss.

Action to halt and reverse the crisis in nature is, at last, rising to the top of the international policy agenda. The rescheduled 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB), currently due to take place in Kunming, China, is expected to agree a successor to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

We are confident that governments at COP-15 are capable of building a collective, ambitious, measurable vision for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use that encourages transformational change. That vision must incorporate intermediate objectives and mechanisms to measure progress. It must recognise that this vision and its objectives are an essential element for people’s livelihoods and sustainable development. It must ensure that this vision, and its objectives and mechanisms, are effectively mainstreamed into domestic policies.

The question is, how is this vision to be realised? 

Learning lessons, consolidating the progress and connecting the dots

The global effort to protect nature is not yet at the same level as the effort to respond to climate change, for example. That means that governments negotiating a biodiversity framework can learn lessons from other processes, including the UN climate talks. 

One of the most salient of these lessons in recent years has been the importance of non-state actors in delivering ambition. The 2015 Paris Agreement encouraged the participation of non-state actors in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts and put in place the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, which gave a role to the private sector, local governments, investors, NGOs and citizens.

As Christiana Figueres, then Executive Secretary to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, wrote at the time, “the Lima-Paris Action Agenda … is a welcome and crucial expression of the reality of the contemporary world: namely that catalyzing and delivering truly transformational action on an issue like climate change requests and requires that everyone is on board.”

What goes for climate goes also for biodiversity. We need to consolidate the progress made and strengthen the virtuous combination of a clear, ambitious and measurable post-2020 global biodiversity framework; a strong narrative that connects nature and the economy - which the UK government’s Dasgupta Review has underscored; and mobilizing non-state actors into the process, showcasing partnerships and solutions, by invigorating the Sharm El Sheikh to Kunming Action Agenda for Nature and People

It is only by strengthening this machinery that we will catalyze actions that will allow us to achieve ambitious goals on biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. The 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook points to eight transitions that recognize the value of biodiversity, the need to restore the ecosystems on which all human activity depends, and the urgency of reducing the negative impacts.

As governments prepare for COP-15, non-state actors including sub-national governments need to be heard and to have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully. Their active participation can help in many ways. Whether it helps to defuse political opposition to action or ensure that biodiversity objectives are closely linked to sustainable economic and social development, it is critical to the process. 

Their active engagement must be encouraged and nurtured, and they must feel a sense of ownership of the outcomes of the talks and share responsibility for delivering its goals. We cannot wait. 

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is Executive Secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal was president of the COP20 climate summit and is Global Lead for WWF’s Climate & Energy Practice.