Our Burning Planet


Biodiversity is in crisis worldwide and time is running out

Biodiversity is in crisis worldwide and time is running out
(Photos: Unsplash / Douglas Bagg / Joshua Cotten / Vincent Van Zalinge / Sebastian Lambarri / Mike Marrah / Peter Burdon)

Tackling biodiversity loss requires ambitious political leadership and will from countries. Without this, the world stares into a bleak future.

Nature is at a tipping point. Over the past century, human activities have destroyed nature at an alarming rate. The 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services highlighted that around one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction, underlining the precarious situation we humans find ourselves in.

It is a serious indictment on the global community that the Aichi Biodiversity Targets — an ambitious set of global goals aimed at protecting and conserving global biodiversity by 2020 — were not achieved. In the past three years, the focus of governments and non-government stakeholders has been to craft a new framework to save nature in the next decade.

Dubbed the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), the new plan is being negotiated — through a series of working groups and technical consultations — with a view to getting it finalised and endorsed during the 15th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, scheduled for December 2022 in Montreal, Canada (COP15).

Catastrophic failure

The fourth Open Ended Working Group (OEWG 4) held in Nairobi, Kenya, last week has catastrophically failed to agree on text for a new deal for nature. 

Government delegations came to Nairobi to agree, among other things, on targets to save species, ensure robust and well-connected ecosystems, include the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as well as a financing mechanism for implementation.

biodiversity desertification

Delegates during the closing of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 20 May 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Legnan Koula)

However, whereas some progress was made in Nairobi, it was painfully slow across the whole framework, three years after the first working group meeting was held in Nairobi in August 2019.

Also notable is the fact that most of the GBF text across the mission, goals and targets was left in square brackets, signalling a deep lack of consensus among government negotiators in Nairobi. This means that there is still a lot of work for the parties and stakeholders ahead of Montreal to “lift the brackets”, as many civil society organisations are now calling for.

COP15 Montreal

Ahead of COP15 in Montreal, nothing short of high-level political intervention will unlock the deadlock, which — in one part — is driven by countries looking only at their national interests, rather than the good of nature and humanity. 

We call upon world leaders to prioritise nature and push for an ambitious deal at COP15. Anything short of that will be disastrous since the biodiversity crisis is linked to the climate crisis.

As Melanie Heath, BirdLife’s Director for Science Policy and Information notes, “there are five months to COP15 and momentum has to build dramatically — everyone must feel the heat and act and inject a sense of urgency and all government leaders must place much greater attention and priority on the negotiations to work. 

“There is no doubt that this is a critical moment for nature, where inaction will have serious implications on the future of humanity.

“While the world’s attention is on the impacts of climate change, it is critically important that world leaders and the global community realise that climate and the biodiversity crisis are inextricably linked — nature is impacted by climate change, but is also part of the solution.”

Species loss

An ambitious GBF should address species loss and address factors that drive species towards extinction. Second, there is a need to put in place a GBF that places emphasis on expanding and effectively managing protected and conserved areas. This should be coupled with holistic spatial planning and ensuring connectivity.

For this purpose, the role of Key Biodiversity Areas as a global standard for identifying conservation priorities should be recognised. Linked to this is the critical role of indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs) who number about 476 million people — about 6% of the global population, but inhabit about 85% of areas proposed for biodiversity conservation.

IPLCs are critical partners in helping achieve protection of 30% of the planet’s land and ocean areas by 2030. 

Working with partners including local communities through its “local to global” partnership model, BirdLife has achieved significant conservation successes and thus the consensus at the Nairobi meeting on acknowledging the critical role played by IPLCs is commendable.

Finally, the means of implementation are critical for effective implementation of the GBF. This includes a clear monitoring and reporting framework. 

Critically, predictable financing must be made available to implement the GBF. Africa faces a huge shortfall in financing biodiversity conservation estimated at about $700-billion annually, thus addressing how to finance this gap is imperative.

biodiversity plett

White-fronted plovers’ numbers are down on this Plettenberg Bay beach. Dogs and foot-traffic present unintended yet major challenges to the beach’s biodiversity. (Photo: Angus Begg)

Political support from countries is also key. Tackling biodiversity loss requires ambitious political leadership and will from countries, without which the world stares into a bleak future.

With the missed opportunity in Nairobi, a robust commitment is urgently needed ahead of Montreal.

Time is ticking. 

As parties and stakeholders spend time in plenary halls debating a word here and a bracket there, the next species is slowly being pushed towards extinction. 

Only a bold commitment through an ambitious GBF will reverse this and put the world on a nature-positive trajectory.

The next five months are going to be critical in starting the journey to achieve this. DM/OBP

Ken Mwathe is the Policy and Communications Coordinator, BirdLife International Africa Office, Nairobi.


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Absa OBP

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