UN conference: No time to waste in protecting Earth’s biodiversity

By Nkechi Isaac

November 28, 2018

Biological diversity is essential for human well-being. It provides for food security, human health, the provision of clean air and water. It contributes to local livelihoods, economic development, and is a central component of many belief systems, worldviews and identities. Yet despite its fundamental importance, biodiversity continues to be lost.

It was against this backdrop that the international community developed the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in time for the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The CBD has become one of the world’s most important multilateral environmental agreement and a key tool for sustainable development with over 196 country member states and over 6000 participants meeting over 25 years since its entry into force to deliberate and come up with policies for the protection of biodiversity.

The Parties to the Convention are currently meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference. The theme, “Investing in biodiversity for people and planet,” reflects the urgent need to act to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity while equitably sharing the benefits.

At the meeting, which ends tomorrow, parties are trying to establish a path for negotiating frameworks and actions that will take the world to the 2050 vision of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, whereby biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used.

The delegates have formed various working and contact groups to look at assessments and review relevant documents on topics such as conservation and sustainable use of pollinators; sustainable wildlife management; unintentional transboundary movements; risk assessment and risk management; synthetic biology; implementation of the convention and its strategic plan; digital sequence information on genetic resources; access and benefit sharing under the Nagoya Protocol, and an array of other topics that relate to biodiversity and the protocols — all geared towards sustainable conservation of nature.

Dr. Cristiana Paşca Palmer, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the meeting is of critical importance for the parties’ collective journey to protect and safeguard life on the planet.

She said that parties have failed to curb the ongoing loss of natural biodiversity on Earth, despite meaningful progress on the conversation around sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetical resources since the CBD was formed 25 years ago.

“As a species, we now have stark options,” she said. “On one hand, we can stay on the path we are right now and accelerate the destruction of nature. But we have to know that this path holds many negative consequences for nature, the ecosystem and also the climate.  This also holds negative consequences to humans from the global economy, health and availability of water, food and even security. Or we can choose another path. We can decide to choose a path of conservation, restoration and transformation of our practices and our economic models.

“This choice is fast upon us because if we do not act now, we may soon reach a tipping point that may cause even more damage and destruction to nature and ultimately human lives,” she continued. “So I think the choice is very clear: by 2020 we want to accelerate achievement of the global target on Aichi Biodiversity Targets and enact a new post 2020 biodiversity framework. By 2030 we must bend the curve of biodiversity loss or risk more damage. By 2050 we must achieve our vision of living in harmony with nature.”

Among the presenters have been Paul Leadley from the Universite Paris-Sud, who discussed approaches to living in harmony with nature and current work on nature sustainability, including actions that can not only help stop the decline in biodiversity but bend the curve to meet the 2050 vision.

Similarly, Hallador Thorgeirsson, formerly UNFCCC Secretariat, presented insights from the climate process. He explained the Paris Agreement sets an upper limit for climate disruption, to which parties then come forward with their nationally-determined contributions, saying the aggregate effect of these contributions are assessed every five years, unleashing a collective drive for progress among parties and stakeholders.

Meanwhile, in welcoming participants at the opening ceremony, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said the conference came at a time when biodiversity is facing real challenges and reflected the need to mainstream biodiversity in all sectors, ensure a safe environment and preserve the rights of future generations so they could benefit from natural resources.

Government delegates were joined by representatives of civil society, subnational and local authorities, the academia, the private sector, youth, indigenous leaders, development agencies and parliamentarians in discussions and parallel summits that have, as their goal, support for achievement of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its protocols at the meeting.

Dr. Yasmine Fouad, the Egyptian Minister of Environment, said the conference, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of the convention, provided an excellent opportunity to exchange perspectives on nature-based solutions to environmental problems, such as how biodiversity loss and climate change are linked, and how biodiversity can contribute to adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Similarly, Dr. Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, pointed out that the human race was losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, threatening its ability to leave no one behind. However, she also noted that there’s still time to act and delay is not an option.

“Our sustainable future depends on your work now and the lead up to 2020. The process for the first 2020 global biodiversity framework, the new deal for nature and people to be decided at this COP and adopted in 2020, is absolutely critical. I urge you to be bold in your deliberations and in taking the necessary decisions to act on the tough choices we need to make for people and planet. Let us work together towards rising to our collective responsibility for future generations.”