UN Biodiversity Conference lays groundwork for nature-based solutions to species loss and climate change

By Pablo Orozco

November 4, 2021

As COP26 continues in Glasgow, those who attended the recent United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) are urging delegates to consider how biodiversity loss is interconnected with climate change.

The Biodiversity COP made it clear that the world is experiencing species loss at an alarmingly high rate and the subsequent ecosystem collapse will spell disaster for both humans and the planet. Urgent action must be taken to stop it.

We are losing our suicidal war against nature,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez as he opened the event.  He reminded the nearly 5,400 delegates attending virtually and in-person that the current man-made biosphere catastrophe will have the greatest impact on some of the poorest and most debt-ridden countries. “COP15 is our chance to call a ceasefire.”

“Now, more than ever, we are witnessing a deep shift of awareness of the interconnected biodiversity, climate and health emergencies that we face,” said Elizabeth Mauna Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Union commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, agreed. “Nature is under unprecedented pressure. It’s time to tackle the biodiversity crisis with the same urgency as the climate crisis. The two crises are in fact two sides of the same coin.”

The two issues share more than just urgency, according to a recent report. Scientists believe that humanity can’t effectively address one without the other.

The question now is how to chart a path forward and ensure that goals are met. To that end, parties to COP15 agreed to the “Kunming Declaration,” which calls for developing, adopting and implementing an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The goal is “to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest, towards the full realization of the 2050 Vision of Living in Harmony with Nature.”

The details, including a consensus on goals and a strategy for galvanizing people and governments to action, are set to be addressed during the second part of COP15, scheduled for April-May 2022. The framework offers a rare chance to map out a new plan of action for the coming decade, which increases the importance of this next round of negotiations.

Dr. Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), succinctly summarized what’s at stake, dubbing  COP15 “the single most important chance for global decision-makers to use the evidence and expertise that has been so widely shared to tackle both the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss—for people and for Nature. It has to be where science becomes ambitious policy and action.”

So, it was extremely fitting that a hopeful message emerged from the scientists and academics attending COP15.

“We have also never been better equipped with the knowledge and tools to confront these challenges,” said a spokesperson for the Consortium of Scientific Partners on Biodiversity (CSP).  “During this [COVID-19] pandemic we’ve witnessed the critical role science can play in addressing global threats when we prioritize and invest in research.”

The CSP statement laid the foundation for the role of science in the second part of COP15: Identifying problems and finding solutions that can match the scale of the challenges that humanity faces.

“The CSP, as well as the broader scientific community, are at the forefront of innovation, creativity and discovery. We hold enormous potential when it comes to enabling transformative change in mankind’s relationship with nature and accelerating progress towards the 2030 Agenda. Our institutions are experts in producing, curating and communicating science with and for the public, engaging all levels of society and turning people into active citizen scientists invested in outcomes.”

This approach has the potential to employ innovations in biotechnology and other technologies, which are built on years of research, in ongoing efforts to make a significant transformation in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. Biotechnology and its products have been used safely and effectively for 25 years, with no evidence of adverse impacts on biodiversity or human health.

As the representative of CSP urged, “We must now mobilize and enable the scientific community to achieve its full potential in shifting the world towards a sustainable, resilient and inclusive future for future generations to come.”

The Alliance for Science has developed science diplomacy activities that promote public engagement with COP15 and will continue to promote broad participation.  Additionally, AfS has submitted a pledge for biodiversity and will be encouraging others to pledge, engage and  speak up to ensure that science is not left at the door of COP15.

Image: A single blue starfish on a dead coral reef. Photo: Shutterstock/Richard Whitcombe