0323 GMT December 06, 2019
Next year is a crunch moment for efforts to stem humanity’s destruction of nature. So far, efforts are failing miserably, with a landmark UN report in May finding that our activities have put a million species at risk of extinction.
Fauna and flora are both under threat because governments have failed to deliver on 20 biodiversity targets they agreed nine years ago in Japan, including designating 17 percent of land as protected areas by 2020, up from less than 10 percent then.
The report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found more than four-fifths of those targets will be missed. Some countries haven’t even drawn up plans to meet them.
It is against this tough backdrop that UN biodiversity chief Cristiana Pașca Palmer has to forge a new post-2020 deal at a key summit next February in China, in order to stop the loss of life. The executive secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and former Romanian minister told New Scientist about her hopes and what needs to be done. Excerpts follow:
How important is next year for addressing the biodiversity crisis?
It’s a critical year for the planet, not just biodiversity. We are facing, in many respects, a planetary emergency. When we speak about biodiversity, we speak about the infrastructure that supports life here: The fabric, the tissue that is the foundation for our economy, for our livelihood, for our well-being and for our society.
Most governments are making limited or no progress towards the 2020 targets. They aren’t doing enough, are they?
Well, you’re right. This is one of the lessons learned of this last 10 years. We are making progress in the target of protected areas, that’s target 11. But there are other targets that are a bit more difficult and many of them are addressing the root causes of biodiversity loss, and those are in the economic models.
How do we fix that?
You know governments alone are not going to be able to solve this problem. There is the private sector, who need the market signals to change direction. And consumers who, through our own consumption choices, can create a demand for products that do not have such a bad impact on nature.
What changes do you think we need in food and farming for nature to thrive?
I think part of the solution is through the diet. It is through understanding the traceability of what we consume, you know, where is our meat coming from and how is that produced, or our fish. Through blockchain technology, you have the capacity to actually trace back various ingredients and see where they are coming from.
Will more people have to go vegan?
Well, I don’t know. It’s a known fact that agriculture, and meat consumption in particular, is driving some of the habitats change, but also it has the impact of climate change.
Why is biodiversity still the poor cousin to climate change?
The impact of climate change is visible and tangible. People can for one year to the next observe that there are changes in the weather patterns and for many of those changes, people attribute to climate change. The biodiversity loss is a silent killer. We may not see it the way we see the climate changing. By the time the impact is visible, it may be too late to recover.
More than 1,000 scientists recently wrote in the journal Science that stopping biodiversity loss is inadequately funded in the US.
Are governments generally spending enough?
No, not at all. We have enormous gaps in funding. I don’t think the money is a problem, it’s more how do you access and mobilize the funds. We are putting tremendous money in perverse incentives — in the fossil fuel industry or even in agriculture — [that] do harm to nature. All that can be repurposed in a different way.
What can we expect from the 2020 biodiversity summit?
I think probably the next policy we might see is a higher target on protected areas. But it’s not enough if we just focus on conservation and protected areas. The loss of biodiversity is fundamentally an economic problem and a market signals problem.
How worried are you about geopolitical headwinds, of nationalism and protectionism?
I like to believe in rational thought and that we all understand that, you know, safeguarding life on Earth is beyond politics, any type of politics. I’m very encouraged by the mobilization of citizens and youth. As gloomy as the overall picture may seem, I think we are not paying enough attention to the positive side.
*This article by Adam Vaughan, a journalist and chief reporter, was first published by New Scientist.