14 December 2018

Africa: Negotiating for Nature

United Nations — Wildlife is being wiped out in an unprecedented rate, and it's our fault. But a new deal could provide a new pathway forward.

Concerned over the rate of biodiversity loss, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is calling for a new deal for nature and people in order to accelerate and integrate action between three core areas: biodiversity, land degradation, and climate change.

"The trends are shocking. We are facing a decline which is unprecedented and its accelerating," WWF's Director General Marco Lambertini told IPS.

"This is a global issue. Almost no country is completely exempt," he added.

And it's not just the iconic species like pandas, elephants, and tigers, he noted.

According the WWF's recent Living Planet report, populations of vertebrate species have declined by 60 percent around the world in just 40 years.

Freshwater species alone faced a decline of over 80 percent.

Such population declines were especially prominent in South and Central America, where there is 89 percent less wildlife than in 1970.

Among the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are directly linked to human activities, namely land conversion and overexploitation.

Over 40 percent of the world's land has been converted or set aside for agriculture alone.

The Amazon, which is home to over 10 percent of the world's species, has seen deforestation and habitat conversion to make way for agricultural activities such as cattle ranching and soy cultivation.

Though there has been some efforts to halt and reverse such harmful activities, 20 percent of the Amazon disappeared in just 50 years.

In Indonesia, primates are facing a heightened risk of extinction as forests are destroyed to produce palm oil.

"Food production is the single most important driver of wild habitat loss... very few people realise the connection between the food that they eat and the impact it is having on wildlife and wild habitats in the world," Lambertini said.

But it doesn't stop there.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), unsustainable land management, which encompasses many modern crop and livestock practices, is causing soil and land degradation thus contributing to both desertification and further biodiversity loss.

"With our current trends in production, urbanisation, and environmental degradation, we are losing and wasting too much land," said UNCCD's Executive Secretary Monique Barbut in the group's Global Land Outlook report.

"We are losing our connection with the earth. We are losing too quickly the water, soil, and biodiversity that support all life," she added.

Lambertini echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: "There's not going to be a prosperous, healthy, happy, just future for us in a degraded planet."

Finding Common Ground

UNCCD is one of three conventions that were established during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Its sister conventions include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Though significant as separate frameworks, Lambertini highlighted the need for more integration between the three conventions as the three issues are interconnected.

"We are calling for a new deal for nature... that really recognises those interdependencies and that they need to be integrated--land degradation, climate change, and nature conservation," he said.

The Executive Secretaries of the three conventions also recognised the intersectionality of the three issues during the U.N. climate change conference in 2017, calling for the establishment of a project preparation facility.

The facility would help promote an coordinated action towards the convention's common issues and finance large-scale multi-disciplinary projects.

However, little has been mentioned of it since.

Similar to the Paris climate accord, the proposed "new deal for nature and people" would ramp up the international community's efforts through ambitious goals and targets to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore nature.

Unlike the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the end date of the biodiversity-related targets under the SDGs is in 2020 and it is expected that many countries will not come close to reaching the targets given current trends.

The new deal for nature would therefore be a post-2020 framework, helping governments to keep up, if not raise, their efforts.

A recent U.N. Biodiversity Conference agreed to begin a preparatory process, marking a first step towards a new framework. However, WWF noted that ambition was weak.

"The world needs to wake up to the risks of biodiversity loss. All stakeholders; business, government and people, need to act now if we are to have any hope of creating a sustainable future for all and a New Deal for Nature and People in 2020," Lambertini said.

"For this to happen, we need a cohesive vision and strong political will - something [Conference of the Parties 14] has unfortunately lacked," he added.

The Value of Nature

The Living Planet Index calculated that nature provides services worth $125 trillion annually while also providing us with fresh air, clean water, food, and medicine.

Wildlife play an essential role, and can even help restore and conserve land.

"We often forget that these creatures are fundamental to maintaining ecosystems like forests, oceans, wetlands, grasslands and make services that are fundamental to us," Lambertini told IPS.

"There is a huge link between biodiversity and their ecosystems... and our fight against climate change," he added.

For instance, approximately 87 percent of all flowering plant species are pollinated by animals, and crops that are partially pollinated by animals account for 35 percent of global food production.

Primates also help disperse seeds and pollen, helping maintain tropical rainforests which are play a crucial role in global rainfall patterns and carbon emissions reduction.

During the recent U.N. climate change conference in Poland, many looked to natural climate solutions including forests which help cut emissions by up to 30 percent.

WWF is urging all stakeholders to come together to deliver on a comprehensive framework to help protect the environment by the next U.N. biodiversity conference set to take place in China in 2020.

"It's time to stop taking nature for granted--we are depending on nature more than nature depends on us," Lambertini said.

"Don't leave nature and environmental conservation and climate change as an afterthought, they have to be driving the thinking and the planning at the policy level as much as the economic level," he concluded.

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