Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

New decade, new empty promises for nature

The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity has ended, paving way for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030

The new draft framework for the post 2020 period is expected to include the scaled up coverage and effectiveness of protected and conserved areas, with UN agencies warning that biodiversity continued to decline despite the growth in protected areas.

Nearly all the targets under the previous framework were missed by 2019 and the  intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services warned that nature was declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history “while the rate of species extinctions is accelerating”. The study revealed that one million species were at risk of extinction at the current trajectory.

“This document is only a plan,” Basile van Havre, the co-chair of the UN convention on biological diversity working group, said during a webinar with journalists on Thursday. Van Havre fielded questions about the poor performance in achieving the last decade’s targets, mainly due to the failure to prioritise nature in financial planning. 

The convention was also not as binding as the Paris Accord on climate; and had no mechanism for punitive accountability, instead working largely by consensus, he said.

The draft is expected to evolve as negotiations continue ahead of the biodiversity Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in china in October; and may include considerations on the time frames because the decade of action begins with only eight years to go because of delays linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Everything is on the table, but this is perhaps not a subject of discussion in August,” Van Havre said.

He expressed confidence in the framework whose targets he said were realistic rather than aspirational, while the inclusion of numerical targets was a big step from previous ones that had no numbers attached.

Van Havre said China was expected to make a pronouncement in coming weeks about an in-person COP15. 

Restoration will be an important focus on the agenda over the next 10 years. UN secretary general Antonio Gutteres said the traumatic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic holds important lessons regarding the response to the biodiversity crisis. 

“On one hand, it has provided a shocking demonstration of the link between our treatment of the living world and the emergence of human diseases,” he said in the release of the Global Biodiversity Outlook.

Countries have made progress in expanding protective areas but many of the targets under the old framework were not achieved and there are concerns about the rights of indigenous people on the rapid expansion of protected areas. 

The latest outlook found the rate of deforestation had fallen globally by about a third compared with the previous decade, while there were successful cases of the eradication of invasive alien species from islands and the targeting of priority species to avoid future invasive species threatening water and ecosystems. 

The world also came close to meeting targets such as protecting at least 17% of land and inland waters and 10% of the marine environment. 

But a third of key biodiversity areas lack any coverage, and less than 8% of land is both protected and connected according to the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  

Humans and other living things face the triple threat of climate change, loss of nature and pollution. People are using about 1.6 times the amount of services that nature can provide sustainably. This was highlighted in the report Becoming Generation Restoration: Ecosystem Restoration for People, Nature and Climate, before the UN warned that conservation efforts alone were insufficient to prevent large-scale environmental collapse and biodiversity loss, without restoration efforts as well.

“Global terrestrial restoration costs – not including costs of restoring marine ecosystems – are estimated to be at least $200-billion per year by 2030. The report outlines that every $1 invested in restoration creates up to $30 in economic benefits,” the UN Environment Programme said at the time.

The report showed that if restoration is combined with stopping the further conversion of natural ecosystems, it may help avoid 60 percent of expected biodiversity extinctions.

Countries have committed to restoring at least one billion hectares of degraded land in the next decade – an area about the size of China. Finance body Global Environment Facility said about 25 percent of total land area globally has been degraded, warning: “If this trend continues, 95 percent of the earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050.”

This has widespread implications for food and social security.   

“Dryland landscapes cover approximately 40 percent of the world’s land area and support two billion people. The vast majority of people who depend on drylands live in developing countries, where women and children are most vulnerable to the impacts of land degradation and drought,” the organisation said. 

A draft framework that will outline the next decade of action was released this week as countries under the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity met virtually. The release comes ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China in October and puts preliminary targets on the table to save the planet from collapse. 

Tunicia Phillips is a climate and economic justice reporting fellow with the Adamela Trust, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Amadela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf

Extortion rackets are part of a corrupt system that includes religious leaders, councillors, police and syndicates

Tobacco farmers want the taxman to do more to control...

The Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association the introduction of a minimum price level for cigarettes

More top stories

Water sector to clean up its act

The Blue and Green Drop programmes are being relaunched to rebuild SA’s often poorly maintained and ‘looted’ water systems

Afforestation can hinder fight against global warming if done wrong,...

A simplistic approach to tree restoration without not properly accounting for the complexities of plant and atmosphere interactions can cause problems

Carbon tax to align to UN treaties

Amendments to offset regulations published on 8 July give clarity on big emitters carrying old carbon credits to a new framework

WATCH AGAIN: Ramaphosa addresses the nation

The president is expected to provide an update on lockdown regulations
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×