IIt was supposed that t should be a Super year for nature2020 was going be a big opportunity to bring nature back from its brink. The coronavirus pandemic hit and long-held plans for addressing the environmental crisis, which were initiated at Davos in Jan, where the financial elite highlighted the risks of global warming and biodiversity loss to civilisation, didn’t materialize. Cop15 in Kunming in China was the biggest biodiversity summit for a decade. It was where world leaders expected to reach a deal to reverse the destruction of ecosystems and to create a Paris-style agreement. The date was moved to 2021. Cop26, the climate summit, was also delayed for a year.
As we enter 2022 it is still not a super year for the environment. Due to the Omicron variant, substantive negotiations for China’s biodiversity Cop15 meeting, the little sister to climate convention, will be delayed a fourth consecutive time. In a process that feels increasingly cursed, despite the best efforts by organisers, preparatory talks for January 2022 in Geneva were pushed back to March.
You can do it. It’s either high water or Covid, but it’s hell. Basile van Havre is co-chair of the Convention on Biological Diversity working group that created the Cop15 agreement. The 21-point draft includes targets for eliminating plastic pollution, reducing pesticide usage by two-thirds, and halving the rate that invasive species introduces. This is a strategy to reduce the rate extinctions and protect life-sustaining ecosystems.
Despite delays, warnings about the future of the planet’s health have not stopped. Scientists believe that the sixth mass extinction is underway and is accelerating due to human behavior. According to a UN report by leading researchers, a million animal and plant species could disappear. The destruction of the forests in the world increased dramatically during this pandemic. As humans continue to consume more than the planet’s limits, dangerous levels of greenhouse gases continue accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere. The world’s governments have failed every single goal they set to prevent the destruction the natural world.
It’s almost like a debt you arent paying back. Van Havre states that you keep accruing interest and that it will eventually have to be repaid. The more time you wait, it will become more costly.
As the pandemic swept through the world, CBD negotiators had not met since February 2020 in Rome. Representatives of the 196 parties began a difficult schedule of online discussions to get back on track. They met six times a week for three hours, and then resumed their work in May 2021. Due to the meeting’s timing, Pacific island states negotiators were among the people who attended the video calls.
There was hope that the process could be completed. The ceremonial opening ceremony of Cop15 Kunming was held in October. It was the first time Beijing had hosted a major UN environment conference. A group of philanthropists including Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, donated $5bn to help protect 30% of the planet by 2010. Cop26 was centered on nature and biodiversity, with side deals on forest destruction and a mention of nature in the Glasgow Pact. The pandemic changed their plans yet again.
Covid is a curse. Can you imagine what would have happened to Glasgow if Omicron had happened a month earlier? However, the CBD was the unfortunate one, as it seems to be every time, says Li Shuo, a policy advisor for Greenpeace East Asia. He says he will be closely monitoring the Covid protocols at the Beijing Winter Olympics to evaluate the possible restrictions on Kunming part 2.
Although Cop15 in person remains a possibility, plans for the first IUCN Africa Protected Areas CongressFor now, plans for the African Peoples’ Assembly (APAC), which will be held in Kigali in Rwanda in March 2022, are still in motion. The summit promises to be Africa’s first ever continent-wide gathering, consisting of citizens, leaders, and interest groups, to discuss the role protected areas play in conserving nature.
Experts say that 2022 must be a great year for nature. First, countries need to reach an agreement at Cop15 when it occurs that is reflective of the nature crisis. Second, they have to stick with it. Nature needs an elegant north star similar to the 1.5C/2C climate targets that all can pursue, including businesses, governments, NGOs, and citizens. Last but not least, 2022 must be the year that the world adopts a single strategy. The three environmental conventions that were agreed almost 30 years agoRio de Janeiro, at the Earth summit. Scientists are certain that the climate crisis and destruction of nature cannot be dealt with in isolation. Therefore, countries should follow the lead set by Uruguay, which is working on a combined approach.
If there is to be a Paris-style deal for nature, it will be crucial that the Cop26 divisions are resolved. Van Havre emphasizes the importance of civil society in the negotiations, and the trust or lack thereof about the $100bn climate funding from developed nations. There are consequences.
Cop26 in Glasgow was successful because of the work of NGOs. This is a clear indication of what we will need to do in Kunming. He says that they will need to be able engage with delegates on-site, not at a different location.
South Africa, despite the support of dozens of countries to protect 30% of land- and sea resources by 2030, is arguing for a lower number in the final Kunming agreement. Expert commentators state that financial commitments will be considered when setting targets related to plastics pollution, pesticide usage, and harmful subsidies.
Many in the biodiversity community continue to search for a consistent term for a rhetorical northstar for nature. Nature positive, a term that is increasingly being used by governments and businesses, does not have a formal definition. It will also include more complex metrics than its climate counterparts. Leading fossil fuel companies such as BP, TotalEnergies and Total Energy have begun to develop strategies to make a positive impact on biodiversity.
We must recognize that biodiversity is not as simple as climate change where the 1.5C target is important. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, UN biodiversity head, said, “I think we need to acknowledge that, unlike climate changes, which is a target, biodiversity complex.” There are many factors that can make something nature positive or negative: land, sea, climate change and chemicals, pollution, invasive species, and others. This complexity is only the beginning. It will be hard to achieve 1.5C.
Eva Zabey, director at Business for Nature, believes that the perfect cannot be an enemy of the great when it comes developing a system civil society and businesses can follow for the benefit of nature.
Zabey says that nature positive, while not included in the Paris agreement text, is the equivalent to net zero. This is a way to make it more accessible. We shouldn’t wait for a framework to begin the action. Companies should not wait for a framework to start taking action. For example, ensure that your supply chain is free from deforestation. There is no reason to stop innovating and invest in protecting and restoring the ecosystems.
Officials are hinting at the need to hold another Earth Summit to address the 21st century’s challenges. In the hope that funding streams will be dual, some developing countries are trying to separate the issues of climate and biodiversity at UN negotiations. However, France and the UK have already begun to provide climate funding for biodiversity. This is a sign of how intertwined these issues are. Mrema says that maintaining coherence between climate and biodiversity, as well as desertification treaties, will be crucial.
If these three conventions were to come up for negotiation today, there would likely be only one treaty. The world was still looking at issues in silos at the time. Scientists have repeatedly reminded us that this doesn’t work. For example, taking care of the soil will help with biodiversity and climate change. She says that implementation is something we cannot separate.
Is there a need for a new Earth summit. Mrema suggests that this is an important question to consider.
Li Shuo believes that the Chinese presidency will need to find Alok Sharm (Cop26 president), and Archie Young for any chance of making next year a great year for nature.
He said, “How do they translate a political mandate into the technical nitty gritty?” It is a difficult question. Are we moving into a time when they do this? Are we going to see it during the Cop?