Our Burning Planet


Unprecedented loss of biodiversity: A million species under threat but there are ways to conserve earth’s living systems

Unprecedented loss of biodiversity: A million species under threat but there are ways to conserve earth’s living systems
(Photos: Unsplash / Douglas Bagg / Joshua Cotten / Vincent Van Zalinge / Sebastian Lambarri / Mike Marrah / Peter Burdon)

The UN Biodiversity Convention has mapped the steps we need to take to conserve the earth’s living systems. It’s going to be a rough ride. But the WWF says it doesn’t go far enough.

Human-induced climate change isn’t just warming the planet to dangerous levels, it’s also threatening the living systems that depend on a stable climate. Add to that centuries of our plundering the natural world for resources and, according to the first draft of a Biodiversity Convention report, we have a serious problem. 

Human activities are currently driving an unprecedented loss of biodiversity, with one million species threatened with extinction. Last year, it was revealed that the world has not achieved any of its previous decade-long biodiversity targets.

The report sets out the framework for global recovery, though details remain to be refined. It expresses alarm at “the continued loss of biodiversity and the threat this poses to human wellbeing” and calls for a reset of society’s relationship with nature. What’s needed is “an urgent broad-based transformative action by governments and all of human society to revision our goals and targets in relation to life on earth”.

The Biodiversity Convention has been ratified by 196 countries, excluding only the United States, which refused to sign. This latest report was the work of more than 60 leading biodiversity specialists from 26 countries. 

Their conclusion is that the planet’s biodiversity crisis is fixable, but that it will take tough measures and demands global buy-in. Because nature is an interlinked fabric, the convention’s goals have had to be defined holistically and not in isolation. To have a realistic chance of “bending the curve of nature’s decline”, the report, therefore, calls for a whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach across national borders. 

The report will be supported by three additional documents: a monitoring framework, a glossary defining terms and technical information on each draft goal and target. It is presently being debated by a Working Group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework which began work on Monday this week.

According to one of the lead authors, Prof Andy Purvis of the UK Natural History Museum, “The wellbeing of future generations depends on saving nature now, but that will be impossible if the targets are too narrow or set too low. A single focus on any one part of biodiversity basically guarantees that things will continue to get worse.” 

The report concludes that unless the different facets are contemplated together, and unless the ambitions are set very high for each of them, there’s very little chance to transition to a better and fairer future for all life on Earth by 2050. This, says the report, is what it will take:

  • All land and sea areas globally need to be under integrated biodiversity planning, with 30% of land and sea areas — especially those with high biodiversity — conserved and well managed, as well as 20% of degraded habitats placed under restoration. This will require:
  • The protection and recovery of the genetic diversity of wild and domesticated species;
  • The reduction of human-wildlife conflict;
  • Ensuring that harvesting and trade in wild species is genuinely sustainable and safe;
  • Preventing and reducing the introduction of alien species;
  • Reduction of pollution that harms ecosystem functioning;
  • Sustainably manage access of indigenous communities to wild species while ensuring food security;
  • Sustainable practices in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry;
  • Increase in urban green and blue spaces necessary for human health;
  • Integration of biodiversity values into all policies, regulations, planning, development processes and poverty reduction strategies;
  • Ensuring the public has access to relevant information and alternatives to reduce overconsumption and food waste;
  • Elimination of incentives such as subsidies harmful to biodiversity;
  • Integration of traditional knowledge into biodiversity planning;
  • Establishment of national targets and enable evaluation against those targets.

To achieve these goals says the report, $200-billion a year needs to be allocated to biodiversity protection, with increased financial flows to developing countries.

To put this into context, the US military expenditure is $778-billion a year, which is 3.4% of its GDP. Americans spend about $560-billion a year on clothes and $100-billion a year on pet food. So $200-billion is a small ask to preserve Earth’s biodiversity life support systems.

The report has come into sharp criticism from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) for not being hard hitting enough in the face of the global biodiversity crisis. 

“In WWF’s assessment,” it says, “the current draft lacks both the ambition and urgency required to reverse biodiversity loss and secure a nature-positive world this decade. The low ambition of the first draft is at odds with the increasing number of world leaders signalling they are stepping up ambition on nature.” 

According to WWF’s director-general, Marco Lambertini, “While WWF welcomes the publication of the first draft, we are disappointed that the text, overall, does not reflect the ambition required to turn the tide on the nature crisis.

“We can’t risk another lost decade for nature. Science has never been clearer: action on nature is not just essential to reducing our vulnerability to future pandemics, it is critical to tackling the climate crisis and securing an equitable and prosperous future for all.” OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Gerhard Pretorius says:

    Does ‘transformative action’ include a positive effort to stop/reduce the number of people on Earth? It is understandable that humankind is dealing with a very complex problem eith many sides to it. As a result there will be action plans on many fronts. The gist of the entire threat, however, is the number of people (7,6 billion) and our desire to be as comfortable as possible. No institution ever mentions this or look at addressing it as one of the biggest game breakers (except China for a while). Let’s rather try anything else but taking away anyone’s “right’ to add more people to the mix.

  • ian hurst says:

    David Attenborough said: “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” Pity the WWF does not speak out. Their disgraceful policy on population is to have no policy.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Unfortunately the well being of Mother Earth is very low down on political agendas right around the globe.

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