Today, representatives from nearly 200 countries are meeting in Kunming, China, to finalize what has been described by some as the “Paris Agreement for Nature.”
The Kunming Declaration and Framework also aims to put an end to humanity’s disruption of a vital planetary system.
Where the Paris Agreement seeks to halt climate change, the Kunming Declaration seeks to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.
But this is not the first decade-long plan to halt the biodiversity crisis. Experts say every single goal set from 2010 to 2020 – through Aichi Biodiversity Targets – failed.
Either way, there is hope that things will be different this time, with scientists saying it is too late to fail for another decade.
Why does the world need a different deal?
Nature is being destroyed at a speed never seen before in human history, that speed is accelerating, and almost all of the destruction is caused by humans.
If the world’s population does not act, 1 million species could be lost, according to the most comprehensive report on the subject produced by the UN.
More than 40 percent of amphibians, 33 percent of reef-forming corals and a third of all marine mammals are now endangered.
According to the UN, climate change is one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss, but the majority is due to increasingly direct human impacts.
The biggest are changes in land use such as deforestation to make room for agriculture and mining. The second largest is simply the direct exploitation of animals – such as overfishing.
Many people see nature as an inherent value. But the loss of nature also has a direct catastrophic impact on humanity.
“World Economic Forum [put] a value of the loss of nature as $ 44 trillion compared to what we have lost so far, ”says James Watson, professor of conservation science at the University of Queensland.
So what is COP15?
With so much attention at the forthcoming climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow, the idea of yet another climate summit can be confusing.
The meeting in Glasgow in November is the conference between the parties to the UN Climate Convention.
COP15 is the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity: The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Every UN member state has signed and ratified the Convention except the United States.
COP15 is hosted by China, but will be a mix of personal and virtual meetings. The meeting was supposed to continue in 2020, but well, 2020 happened. It launches this week with further negotiations in April and May next year.
Just as the Paris Agreement, ratified in 2015, governed how the world would deal with climate change between 2020 and 2030, the Kunming Declaration will aim to govern how the world handles the biodiversity crisis over the same period.
The new agreement will replace Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which included the cessation of illegal fishing and the cessation of the extinction of known endangered species.
Professor Watson said none of the 20 goals were achieved.
What will be agreed upon?
The final agreement has not yet been seen and will not be finalized until the next meeting in April 2022.
But the world will sign up to 20 goals as part of a “framework”. Among the draft targets and milestones for 2030 so far are:
- 30 percent of land and sea areas to be protected
- Invasive species spread reduced by 50 per cent
- Pollution from all sources reduced to levels that are not harmful to biodiversity
- The extinction rate stopped accelerating
On top of that, the parties will also be asked to sign an overarching document setting the broader agenda for the framework called the Kunming Declaration.
The latest draft declaration commits each country to ensuring that global biodiversity is “on the road to recovery by 2030”.
Nathaniel Pelle of the Australian Conservation Foundation said it was a big step forward.
But he wants it to move on.
“We want [all parties] including Australia to join a global mission to reverse the destruction of nature, put the world on the path to being ‘nature positive’ or to have better health than we are now in 2030. “
Will the agreement help nature?
Professor Watson said there were two reasons why the Aichi goals failed so poorly.
The first is that countries signed up for it, but just did not bother to trade on it. The other was that there was no good way to measure progress, he said.
That is one of the reasons why he has a hope that the Kunming Declaration will be different.
According to Professor Watson, measuring the final goals will depend on how the negotiations take place at the meeting. But no matter what happens, he said, satellite technology had come so far that measurement would be easier.
“We will be able to see because satellites are not lying,” he said.
But not everyone is optimistic.
Environmental lawyer Michelle Lim of Macquarie University said she was concerned that since none of the targets are binding, countries would likely ignore them again.
“Almost every article of the Convention is qualified in terms of ‘as far as possible’ and ‘as required’ or ‘subject to national law’. And there is even a specific article that clearly states the sovereign right of states to essentially do what they like within their sovereign territory, “said Dr. Glue.
For that reason, Dr. teases Glue to descriptions in the media of the agreement falsified in Kunming, similar to the Paris Agreement.
“In terms of the enforcement mechanisms or the coercion exercised by international law to achieve certain goals, it is much stronger in Paris compared to what is happening here.”
What is Australia’s role in all this?
There is a lot at stake for Australia.
It is ranked third in the world for the largest extinction of species and number one when it comes to the extinction of mammals. More than a third of all mammal extinctions since industrialization have taken place in Australia.
A study this year showed that 19 ecosystems in Australia are now “collapsing” – including the crucial Murray-Darling Basin and the Great Barrier Reef.
While it is bad for the non-human species that live in these ecosystems, it is also devastating to the nation.
Australians rely on forests for drinking water, on river systems for food production and places like the Great Barrier Reef are vital to parts of our economy.
Meanwhile, Australia has reduced funding for nature conservation and restoration by around 40 per cent since the coalition came to power in 2013, according to analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the government disputed this interpretation of the budget.
But Nathaniel Pelle wants Australia to do more.
“Seventy countries have joined what is called the ‘High Ambition Coalition for Nature’ and are committed to protecting 30 percent of the country,” he said.
“And over 90 countries have signed the pledge of leaders. Unfortunately, Australia is not one of them,” he said.