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As Earth’s biodiversity declines, the perilous consequences are proving to only rise. The destabilization of national economies, threats to food systems, escalation of climate change, and likelihood of global pandemics such as COVID-19 are all increasingly linked to the loss of the planet’s variety of life.
This year, however, the UN Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) is set to instate a new global plan for biodiversity conservation that will run through 2030, seeing nations and leaders commit to higher standards of protection and restoration of natural habitats and ecosystems.
Concurrently, 2021 also sees the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, a 10-year effort to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.”
To contribute to the Decade and new framework’s likelihoods of success, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) has published a set of seven biodiversity policy recommendations co-created by its network of partner organizations, including the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and UN Environment. The recommendations are accompanied by eight guidelines to aid implementation.
The document, entitled “One World, One Health: recommendations to harness the power of landscapes,” responds to biodiversity’s role in the world’s current health and financial challenges by urging governments to act on the vast benefits of conservation and to improve the legal power, rights and responsibilities of people living in biodiverse landscapes.
Substantiated by scientific research, case studies, methodologies and frameworks discussed in the digital forum, each recommendation is accompanied by illustrative reasons for its potential benefit.
The recommendations are:
- Include public health perspectives in landscape and ecosystem management.
- Transform financial structures for conservation and restoration, especially through re-targeting of subsidies and stimulating youth employment.
- Enable community ownership of decision-making structures and resource flows.
- Commit support to, and engage in, inclusive knowledge-sharing platforms.
- Promote the application of rights-based approaches in sustainable development and uphold rights.
- Scale local initiatives and successes in lieu of imposing solutions top-down.
- Support communities that havethe most at stake in the climate, health and biodiversity crises to own development discourse.
Drafted largely by a team of youth members of the GLF and partner organizations, the recommendations are founded upon the “landscape approach,” an environmental philosophy that seeks to stymie climate change and achieve the UN Sustainable Development goals by addressing social, environmental and economic objectives in tandem. The decision for youth (aged 35 and under) to conduct the drafting process serves as an embodiment of the landscape approach by including young professionals in the type of policy-making processes from which they are often sidelined.
James Reed, a scientist with CIFOR who is co-leading a multi-country research program on landscape approaches, says that the recommendations as they stand are broad, and their application should be narrowed and tailored to fit specific contexts, backed by localized research on the inclusion of landscapes’ custodians.
“The landscape approach research process can come in to reach those people that are not being heard in decision-making processes and try and understand why – and also why it is important to include them,” Reed comments. “What are the social impacts and environmental outcomes of including their voices? What does history show us on how they’re managing their landscapes? Is it effective for environmental targets, and is it also meeting their needs?”
The recommendations are preluded by four demands on global governments, penned in a preamble by members from 18 youth climate organizations. The demands – for government transparency; education systems that include a greater value placed on nature; better inclusion of marginalized populations, including youth; and transformative climate action from global leadership – summarize some of the large-scale changes advocated by the youth climate movement globally.
“We were all sharing our experiences of what we’ve seen on the news, or on social media, of older generations saying how youth are idealistic and not as realistic as they should be,” says Ruth Oviedo Hollands, 27, one of the coordinators of the preamble, which also doubles as a standalone document.
“We wanted to prove that’s not true. There’s a large and growing youth population who work or volunteer in programs, non-profits or grassroots organizations and will give their time to projects involved in efforts aiming to solve climate change issues. We tried to convey our strong message in our letter.”
In 2010, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets saw almost every country sign and commit to 20 ambitious conservation goals – but the decade since has nevertheless proven devastating for biodiversity loss. In 2019 as the Targets were drawing to a close, scientific platform IPBES warned of 1 million species being at risk of extinction. A sweeping report released in September 2020 by the CBD, which facilitated the Targets, confirmed that none of the 20 goals were fully achieved, and only six were achieved in part. A similar report from the World Wildlife Fund found that populations of 4,400 vertebrate species had declined by an average of 68 percent since 1970.
The CBD’s executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema called the rate of loss “unprecedented.”
There is currently no agreed-upon cost for funding adequate biodiversity conservation. In 2012, the CBD estimated that it would require between USD 150 and 440 billion annually to achieve the Targets and has not updated the cost since. Its 2020 report, however, found that total global finance for biodiversity currently stands between USD 80 and 90 billion, paling in comparison to the 500 billion doled out by governments in subsidies that are environmentally harmful.
The biodiversity policy recommendations were created as an applicable output of the scientific discussions that took place in the GLF’s two-day forum held digitally in October 2020, which focused on biodiversity conservation’s role in preventing future emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 through the One Health approach. Similar to the landscape approach, One Health advocates for the integration of the fields of human, animal and ecological health, given their extensive interlinkages.
As the new CBD framework is solidified and the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration begins, the recommendations are meant to help ensure the landscape approach, One Health and youth voices have greater sway in biodiversity conservation practices in the decade to come. The recommendations are set to be discussed alongside meetings of the CBD’s subsidiary bodies as a way to realize the framework’s new goals as well as complement the strategy for the Decade.
“This is a good reminder to the world that we are not going anywhere, and we’ll continue working to make sure we stay focused on the climate crisis,” says Hollands.
All illustrations by Josie Ford, studiojojo.co