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Last year was an important year for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and this year is even more so.
With 2020 seeing the close of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a set of goals created in 2010 to curb the rapid loss of the variety of life on Earth, there was a deluge of reports on the outcome of the targets and what they had achieved – or, rather, what they hadn’t.
This is to say that the job of the CBD’s Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, has not been the easiest occupation in the world, and it will only get more difficult as countries negotiate a new Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, setting goals for 2030 and 2050, to be agreed later this year.
What’s more, her duties are set against a backdrop of biodiversity loss that continues to accelerate, threatening the safe continuation of basic human necessities, such as food and the development of medicines. (This is to say that her job is not just about saving the lives of plants and animals, but also saving those of humans.)
“I believe that not achieving the [new] global biodiversity framework’s goals and targets, as a package, is not an option considering that this decade is our last chance to make a difference on this planet and ensure targets and their contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved,” she said in an interview with Landscape News. “If we do not achieve the global biodiversity framework, we will experience a sixth mass extinction, risks to our economic systems and continuing irreversible changes.”
When appointed Acting Executive Secretary in November 2019, and then Executive Secretary in June 2020, she became the first African woman to hold the role – a mere cherry atop her already extraordinary career. She comes from a background studying law, working in the government of her home country Tanzania before foraying into international policymaking through various leadership positions at the UN Environment Programme.
But as much as her experience prepared her to step into such a role, so, too, did the landscape of her childhood, set on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, among banana plantations fed by freshwater streams.
In the time since her youth, this area has degraded into barren dryland, the lush fields of fruit now gone. And it is this firsthand view of biodiversity loss that fuels her realism about the present and her steadfast resolution that the future can, and must, be better.
“Ultimately, I envision an era where we as humans fully appreciate nature’s innumerable contributions to our everyday lives, ensure that these contributions continue, and that we all, as citizens of our one and only planet, fully understand that biodiversity remains the answer for sustainable development challenges.”