Biodiversity crisis

Published December 6, 2022
The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.
The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.

BIODIVERSITY loss is a major factor that aggravates the planetary crisis together with climate change and pollution. Driven by human actions under the influence of a development model that ascribes little value to preserving nature, the rapid loss of biodiversity could result in the extinction of up to a million species of animals and plants.

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reported in its global assessment that in the last half century, more than 85 per cent of wetlands have been lost, while 75pc land and 66pc oceans have been significantly altered.

The biodiversity crisis is as serious an existential threat to life on Earth as climate change, but its scale and associated risks have remained relatively obscure.

Compared to the high level of awareness in the media and public about climate change, there is less attention and little debate in Pakistan about the growing impact of the loss of biodiversity, and the way the country’s rich biodiversity is quietly vanishing under multiple pressures.

In the past 50 years, more than 85pc of wetlands have been lost.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will see leaders and representatives from the world convene for an important meeting in Montreal from Dec 7 to Dec 19 to develop a new global biodiversity framework to halt and reverse the catastrophic loss of nature.

Established at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the CBD brings together UN member states for coming up with strategies to conserve biological diversity, use its components in a sustainable manner, and share the benefits of the utilisation of genetic resources fairly and equitably.

The Conference of Parties (COP), the governing body of the convention, meets regularly to advance the implementation of the convention and take new decisions. Initially held annually, it now meets on a biennial basis.

The 15th COP, originally scheduled for 2020 in Kunming, China, was postponed due to Covid-19 and has since been split into two parts. The first was held in a hybrid format last year in Kunming and adopted the Kunming Declaration calling for urgent action to protect biodiversity and for member states to include biodiversity protection in all areas of the global economy. The second part of the session will resume in Montreal to finalise the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework which will replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of 2010.

The Aichi targets contained commitments, among other things, to integrate biodiversity values into national and local development and poverty reduction strategies, eliminate or phase out subsidies harmful to biodiversity, reduce habitat loss, reduce pollution, increase and improve protected areas and mobilise financial resources from all sources for effective implementation of the strategic plan.

However, due to slow and erratic progress, none of the targets were fully achieved. Meanwhile, like a silent killer, biodiversity loss continued to inflict deadly damage on the intricate network of nature’s life support system on Earth.

To make up for the missed opportunities, preparatory work for the post 2020 biodiversity framework commenced three years ago and has made steady progress. Building on previous plans, the proposal for the new framework contains actions to protect biodiversity, raise awareness, and reduce risks of extinction of species. One of the contentious subjects relates to mobilising additional resources for implementing the convention and assisting poor countries to undertake nature conservation.

The Montreal meeting comes in the wake of the UN Climate Cha­nge Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh which ended on a hopeful note by establishing the loss and damage fund for assisting poor countries affected by global warming. This landmark decision will inspire climate action in support of the Global South which is too often at the receiving end of nature’s wrath and fury.

The adverse impacts of biodiversity loss are not dissimilar to that of climate change, and, in fact they are interlinked. COP15 is a timely opportunity for the international community to raise the bar for an ambitious post-2020 Global Framework for Biodiversity which can turn the planet nature-positive again. The success of the new arrangement will equally hinge on the provision of a solid financial resource base to support implementation, particularly in poor nations.

It will require political commitment across the board to arrive at a comprehensive agreement at Montreal for conserving ecosystems and habitats as well as ensuring the sustainable and equitable use of genetic resources. Anything less will risk subjecting our fragile planet to deeper fissures. The world cannot afford it.

The writer is director of intergovernmental affairs, United Nations Environment Programme.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022

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