Environment

Sharm El Sheikh and Katowice – two sides of a single coin

22/01/2019

This autumn has seen two dramatic wake-up calls from scientists about the future of our planet. The IPCC special report on 1.5˚C and WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018 confirm that climate change and biodiversity loss are twin threats to humanity that are interdependent and must be addressed together.

They also warn that unless we change the way we produce, consume, feed, finance and fuel modern societies, our world will become a lot less hospitable, far sooner than scientists had anticipated. 

We are well attuned to nature’s good side, and we take the benefits we receive for granted. But what we have already seen nature’s ire: a melting Arctic and forest fires, rising sea-levels, droughts, floods and storm surges. When scientists warn of threats to clean air and water, food security and medicines, they are really speaking of threats to the bare necessities of life.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. This was one main message to emerge from the UN Biodiversity Conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from 13-29 November, where the EU lead the international efforts for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. There is still time to change, and an urgent call to action was the guiding principle of the UN Conference on Climate Change in Katowice, from 3-14 December, to which the EU brought an ambitious commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

We are right to be alarmed by recent climate trends – and we need the same response to biodiversity loss. And just as the Paris Agreement is guiding international action towards a low-carbon future, we also need a Global Deal for Nature and People to reverse nature’s decline by 2030.

Seen in that light, the 14th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity in Sharm El Sheikh was quite a success. The international community kicked off the preparations for a strong post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be agreed at the next COP in Beijing in 2020.

Stepping up our efforts

The Sharm El Sheikh to Beijing Action Agenda for Nature and People needs to be supported by meaningful pledges and commitments, in a similar vein to the pledges made by companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the run-up to the Paris climate agreement. It’s time for business to make biodiversity and natural capital commitments to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Act4nature is a good example – a business-driven pledge and commitment initiative from some 65 international companies. These initiatives should be further developed and promoted, and become common practice around the planet.

Leaders at Sharm El Sheik also agreed on the need to place the concerns over biodiversity at the centre of agriculture, energy, mining, industry and infrastructure projects, and to redouble efforts to maintain and restore ecosystems. This will not be easy. We failed to achieve global biodiversity targets in 2010 and we are not on track to achieving them in 2020.

Europe – the world’s biggest donor for the protection of biodiversity – is showing the way, with the EU budget alone contributing EUR 350 million per year to protect biodiversity in developing countries. But while there is a growing awareness of the crucial role of biodiversity and ecosystems in human health and food security, we need to do much better at home.

In spite of all our stringent environmental standards and conservation laws, our nature is still in decline. Only 23 % of animal and plant species and 16 % of habitat types protected under the Habitats Directive have a ‘favourable’ conservation status. This is unacceptable.

Being a leader means thinking big and showing courage. You cannot win big challenges with token policies. So how can we think big on biodiversity?

This has to start with policy coherence. Biodiversity is affected by everything we do so it needs to be addressed by every economic sector. And we also have to step up efforts at EU level to ensure that no EU legislation undermines our biodiversity targets.

We also need faster progress on the finance front. Even if only a fraction of the funding devoted to infrastructure and climate change mitigation was used for nature and nature-based solutions the difference could be remarkable.

Symbolic gestures and business as usual will not save the day. We need a fast and serious change in our thinking and widespread acceptance of the powerful and inseparable bond that links biodiversity and climate change.

Nature is our strongest ally to stabilise climate. We cannot afford for nature to turn from a friend into a foe.

Climate action
Nature and biodiversity
International issues