Sustainable Development

The world has missed key biodiversity goals – but these 8 changes could make all the difference

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The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report concludes that six of the original 20 goals have been “partially achieved”. Image: Unsplash

Harry Kretchmer
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Future of the Environment

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • A major UN report says decade-long targets to improve global diversity are being missed.
  • While investment in conservation has doubled since 2010, more funding is needed.
  • Schemes like protecting marine areas are praised, but programmes need to demonstrate wider benefits.
  • The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report recommends eight ‘transitions’ to help shift to a more sustainable path.

In 2010, the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) set 20 targets to try and slow, then halt the loss of biodiversity. They were agreed in Aichi, Japan. A decade on, its verdict is in – and “business as usual” needs to stop.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report concludes that six of the original 20 goals have been “partially achieved”. There have been successes in areas including managing invasive alien species and protecting lands and oceans.

However, targets have been missed on combating biodiversity loss in farming, controlling pollution, protecting reefs – and a diverse range of other threatened ecosystems.

Have you read?

But the report is not a counsel of despair. Instead it says we are at a “crossroads” – with choices to make. Eight “transitions” can stem decline, it says, from promoting sustainable food systems to making cities greener. They are themes the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit seeks to address.

A range of actions could help reduce biodiversity loss.
A range of actions could help reduce biodiversity loss. Image: CBD

‘Partially achieved’

The CBD’s analysis of the six biodiversity targets where progress has been “partially achieved” reveals some significant achievements. Landscape restoration programmes, including tree planting, have made inroads. The Forum’s platform for the mass tree-planting movement seeks to bring some of them together.

But the report also flags where successes have been patchy and don’t translate into wider change.

1. Invasive alien species

The CBD recognizes that “good progress” has been made on identifying, prioritizing and looking at the feasibility of managing invasive species, with a number of successful programmes. The Forum has highlighted some – including robotic fish to scare away one of the world’s most invasive species, the mosquitofish. The distinction, however, is between important wins and a general trend. “There is no evidence of a slowing down in the number of new introductions of alien species,” the report concludes.


How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

2. Protected areas

In 2010 a target was set to protect, by 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas. The UN’s Protected Planet team now estimate that more than 27,000,000km2 of seas are now protected. And at first sight the CBD’s verdict is positive: protected areas are “likely to reach the targets for 2020 and may be exceeded”. However, concerns remain whether there is enough protection of the most important habitats, and if protected areas benefit the wider, unprotected environment.


3. Access to Genetic Resources

The Aichi targets set out to make sure that the genetic resources – like plants, animals, seeds and spores – were fairly shared, with benefits distributed among producing and consuming countries. There is now a partial legal underpinning of these rights: by July 2020, 126 parties to the CBD had ratified the measure and 87 had put in place measures that support its principles.

4. National biodiversity strategy

As of July this year, 85% of parties to the Aichi targets have created and have started to implement an “effective, participatory and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan”. But 15% have still to act.

5. Biodiversity knowledge

This is an area where technology is helping the planet. In 2010, a target was set to better share knowledge about biodiversity – the science and technology behind it, and the impacts of its loss. Since then, the CBD recognizes “big-data aggregation, advances in modelling and artificial intelligence opening up new opportunities for improved understanding of the biosphere”. But a key problem remains: who has access to that data? Information asymmetries remain.


6. Financial resources

Biodiversity needs investment. Conservation funding has roughly doubled since 2010, but is still not enough. The annual amount needed to adequately resource nature conservation is estimated to be between $300-400 billion every year, but currently around $52 billion is available. The CBD says there’s another problem too: “these resources are swamped by support for activities harmful to biodiversity”.

What we can do now

The report makes clear that this predominantly “business as usual” approach isn’t good enough, and nations and organizations around the world need to step up. The Forum’s plan for a Great Reset shares this ambition. The CBD outlines eight transitions that could help biodiversity going forward.

Top of the list is a land and forests transition: conserving intact ecosystems and reversing degradation. It’s a movement gaining support globally, with notable successes.

The CBD also advises nations to transition to more sustainable agriculture by redesigning it to include more “agroecological” approaches to enhance productivity. Unless things change, the agri-food sector is on track to produce half of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The report recommends eight ‘transitions’ that can restore ecosystems.
The report recommends eight ‘transitions’ that can restore ecosystems. Image: CBD

Our use of food systems – including fisheries and oceans – must also become more sustainable, argues the International Monetary Fund, making it easier to live healthily – and to be fed. Obesity is high, but 820 million people are also hungry, according to the UN. The CBD says eating less meat and producing much less waste will help.

At the heart of these policies will be a sustainable climate action transition, through measures such as accelerating the transition to renewables and a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels. Closely aligned is a One Health transition, linking healthy ecosystems to healthy people.

“Transformative changes are possible when they must be made,” says CBD Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema of the radical action forced on the world by COVID-19. “The decisions and level of action we take now will have profound consequences – for good or ill – for all species, including ours.”

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