/ 15 July 2021

New decade, new empty promises for nature

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon
The United Nations Decade on Biodiversity has ended, paving way for the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. (Nacho Doce/Reuters)

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.