The Earth’s biodiversity is being destroyed through overconsumption, unsustainably intensive agriculture, deforestation and climate destruction, yet there is still time to change course if humankind acts swiftly and decisively, according to three significant reports released in recent days.
The planet’s biodiversity – the entire variety of life on Earth in all of its forms – is “suffering badly and getting worse,” warned the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5), released on Tuesday by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A complementary Local Biodiversity Outlook (LBO) report released one day later focused on shortcomings of global leadership in recognizing the power and value of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) in biodiversity conservation.
The GBO-5 bluntly assessed the lack of progress on the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets as of their 10-year deadline in 2020, the final year of the UN Decade on Biodiversity that began in 2011. Oceans were of particular concern, with more than 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs under threat, as well as unsustainable agriculture. Pervasive lack of funding was also brought into focus with staggering disparity seen between public funds for biodiversity, amounting to USD 9.3 billion, and harmful subsidies and financial incentives worth USD 500 billion.
“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying,” warned the head of the CBD Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. Environmental disasters, from raging wildfires in California and parts of Brazil to the COVID-19 pandemic are showing the results of the damage being inflicted by humans.
This year marks a watershed for biodiversity, as international policy work continues to replace the Aichi Targets with a new set of goals. Some say these must not only be more aggressive but also implemented as soon as possible. “We can no longer afford to cast nature aside. Now is the time for a massive step-up: conserving, restoring and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably,” said Inger Andersen, head of UN Environment.
The country reports examined for the GBO-5 revealed that national targets are often not aligned with the Aichi Targets, being less comprehensive in scope and ambition. In fact, said Mrema, only about 10 percent of national targets were actually aligned with Aichi.
Success stories prove that when governments act decisively, they can halt the destruction of biodiversity, said David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the CBD and an author of the GBO-5. “Policy measures do work – where they’re put in place. It is possible to reduce and reverse biodiversity loss and put nature on the path to recovery.”
Too often, the contributions of IPLCs to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use have been “neglected and marginalized,” representing an enormous missed opportunity for achieving the UN’s biodiversity goals, said the LBO report.
Some of the world’s most biodiverse areas are found within the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples and local communities, according to the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), which helped produce the report. More than a quarter of the global land area is traditionally owned, managed, used or occupied by Indigenous peoples, and has been for millennia.
“Indigenous peoples’ values and knowledge provide insights for reciprocal human-nature relationships amidst the crisis of biodiversity loss and climate change,” said Joji Carino of the FPP and a lead author of the local biodiversity report.
“Biodiversity needs the voices of Indigenous peoples. Putting the cultures and rights of IPLCs at the heart of the 2050 biodiversity strategy would deliver sustainable livelihoods and wellbeing and positive outcomes for biodiversity and climate,” she said.
The findings of the two biodiversity reports echoed earlier conclusions by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in its Living Planet Report 2020 earlier this month.
“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials,” said Sir David Attenborough.
“But above all it will require a change in perspective. A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world,” he added in an essay published with the WWF report. “If we have become powerful enough to change the entire planet, then we are powerful enough to moderate our impact – to work with nature, rather than against it.”
The WWF report showed that global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have plunged by more than two-thirds over the last 50 years, the “catastrophic” result of human destruction of the planet’s biodiversity. The report analyzed global data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. It cites unsustainable food production, deforestation, destruction of habitat and overuse of wildlife as key contributing factors to this biodiversity loss, as well as to emerging zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.
“Nature and biodiversity loss is so serious that it’s having a catastrophic impact; not only on wildlife populations, but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of the WWF. “Nature is unravelling. Our planet is flashing red warning signs of Earth system failure.”
Unsustainable food systems are at the crux of biodiversity loss. The report sets 2030 as a deadline for reversing these trends and transforming food supply and demand, including shifting consumer behaviour toward more healthy and environmentally-friendly dietary decisions.
“Humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts – not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives,” said Lambertini.
The reports come as the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) gathers digitally. Leaders are expected to review progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Join the Global Landscapes Forum’s digital conference on biodiversity 28–29 October.