Decisions in these 3 areas will be a crucial part of addressing biodiversity loss

Eric Schwaab

Published Dec. 9, 2022

By Eric Schwaab and Mandy Rambharos

In the fight to protect, sustainably use and restore nature, the world’s eyes are firmly fixed on Montreal. Delegates from more than 190 countries are converging on this city to hammer out a set of targets for the next decade as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Attendees at the meeting — a United Nations conference known as COP15 — hope to stave off a hastening biodiversity crisis. The stakes could not be higher.

What’s at risk?

The international scientific body that monitors biodiversity estimates that we’ve already lost 83% of wild mammal biomass, and half of the world’s plant biomass. It also suggests that more than a million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction, potentially leading to what scientists describe as the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.

While the focus at COP15 is primarily on biodiversity, we live in an interconnected world where biodiversity, climate change and food production systems are inextricably linked.

As climate change degrades ecosystems, species that cannot adapt face extinction. At the same time, destruction of ecosystems erodes nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and protect against extreme weather.

These changes also affect food production as drought, floods and heat waves undermine food security and force farmers and fishers to work harder to sustain livelihoods and maintain food security. Agriculture itself also contributes one-third of planet-warming pollution, an impact that can go up under stressed agricultural systems.

We can’t solve the biodiversity crisis without simultaneously tackling the climate crisis. And we can’t address either of those without a clear-eyed transformation of the world’s food systems.

Ocean and land depletion due to food production are directly degrading natural ecosystems and contributing to biodiversity loss from overfishing and agriculture-related deforestation, and indirectly intensifying the impacts of climate change.

This is what U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently described as “humanity’s senseless and suicidal war with nature.”

Many people in places most at risk of direct climate impacts are also most vulnerable to lost farming and fishing livelihoods and resulting food insecurity. And yet they are also often closest to critical forest, grassland and ocean systems home to the world’s greatest biodiversity.

As we address these critical issues, we must remember that people play an essential role in the transformation toward more regenerative and sustainable systems. Solutions must account for environmental justice, equity and recognition of rights and sustainable practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities. 

3 areas we’re watching at COP15

Delegates to COP15 are negotiating a series of 22 “targets” that will become binding commitments by nations to take specific actions to tackle biodiversity loss by 2030.

We think how countries agree to three targets will be critical if the convention is to produce durable solutions:

1. 30x30 (Target 3)

This target seeks to protect and conserve 30% of the earth’s land and ocean area by 2030.

This is an ambitious and energizing goal, but it doesn’t go far enough. Negotiators have an opportunity to recognize that the most effective and durable protected areas fit within a “100% solution” in which complementary sustainable management of surrounding land and waters delivers benefits for both communities and nature.

We must also explicitly protect and respect the title, tenure, access, and resource rights to land and ocean of small-scale fishers, smallholder farmers and Indigenous peoples and local communities who play an outsized role in protecting and stewarding critical habitats and species.

This will only be possible through free prior and informed consent and through an inclusive decision-making process when establishing protected areas.

Conservation objectives should be met through a combination of reserves and protected areas as well as other effective area-based conservation measures. Finally, climate-driven shifts must also be factored into the design and management of an effective protected area network.

2. Nature-based solutions (Target 8)

This target identifies reducing the equivalent of 10 gigatons of CO2 annually as a goal, but negotiators are grappling with whether this reduction should come from natural climate solutions, such as avoided deforestation.

Natural climate solutions are a critical part of solving the climate crisis, and we hope negotiators at COP15 will include natural climate solutions in the Target 8 language.

For example, the voluntary carbon market for tropical forest credits, if done right, can dramatically scale up the funding needed to end and reverse deforestation, while providing important social and environmental co-benefits, such as much-needed financial resources for forest communities, and maintaining the biodiversity services from thriving forests.

Along with Indigenous peoples’ organizations and a coalition of environmental organizations, EDF helped launch the Tropical Forest Credit Integrity Guide (TFCI) — an essential tool supplying clear guidance to companies interested in purchasing high-quality tropical forest carbon credits to improve the impact of those purchases.

The TFCI Guide will help companies ensure their purchases of carbon credits are of the highest quality and help keep tropical forests alive for future generations.

3. Sustainable agriculture (Target 10)

This target seeks to ensure that all agricultural systems including land-based agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forests are managed sustainably.

With well over half of Earth’s lands and waters managed by farmers, fishers, ranchers or foresters, our ability to thrive on a changing planet will depend on creating incentives, policies and social norms to build agricultural and fisheries resilience.

Maintaining sustainable production without a concurrent increase in humanity’s environmental footprint protects important forest and grasslands and can reduce direct emissions from agriculture and fisheries.

Furthermore, it is essential that the target include a prominent role for smallholder farmers, fishers and Indigenous peoples who make up the vast majority of food producers and whose livelihoods are most directly affected by changes to management practices. 

If COP15 is successful, it will result in a global blueprint to save the planet's dwindling biodiversity — one that weaves together solutions critical to protecting communities and solving our climate crisis.

If successful, we can achieve a historic agreement to halt and reverse nature loss — an achievement that will be seen by our descendants as a turning point in the decline of biodiversity.

You can join the conversation and add your perspective on Twitter with the hashtag #COP15.

This post was co-authored by Eric Schwaab, EDF's senior vice president for people and nature, and Mandy Rambharos, EDF's vice president for global climate cooperation.

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