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Time for a new deal for nature and people

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The statistics are sobering: in just two generations, the population sizes of vertebrates tracked in WWF’s benchmark Living Planet report have declined an average of 60 per cent. In a little over 40 years, humankind has had a devastating impact on the planet’s biodiversity, through habitat destruction, pollution and over-exploitation.

No less than climate change, biodiversity loss on this scale has profound implications for human health, welfare, food and security. Healthy ecosystems ensure productive agriculture. Nature is likely to hold undiscovered cures for disease. It provides services worth an estimated $125 trillion a year.

WWF calls for a new deal for nature and people

That is why WWF is calling for a new deal for nature and people to arrest the decline in wildlife populations and habitats, and to reverse declining biodiversity in favour of restored landscapes and marine ecosystems. Such a deal, we believe, could be struck in 2020, in the context of the 15th Conference of the parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Beijing, the important 2020 climate change NDCs phase, the High Level Political Forum around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN).

Recent years have seen a paradigm shift in the willingness of the international community to put in place the mechanisms to deliver action on climate change and sustainable development. The Paris Agreements and the UN SDGs both put in place in late 2015, provide templates we can use to construct an ambitious international agreement to protect nature.

A new deal needed to address biodiversity loss 

Such a deal should have the objective of addressing biodiversity loss, with clear and ambitious targets. It should be aligned with climate goals, specifically the emerging 2050 Pathways that governments are beginning to set out to chart the way to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the 2030 SDGs.

It is clear that if we don’t manage to reverse natural habitat destruction, we will not be able to fulfill the 2030 agenda: a number of the 17 SDGs relate directly to biodiversity, including those covering life on land and life below water, while achieving several of the others would indirectly lead to healthier natural environments.

These targets will also need to be measurable and enforceable, with formal governance mechanisms, and be able to be implemented nationally. Bottom-up target setting, as has been successfully employed in the Paris Agreement, gives nations ownership of and responsibility for environmental goals, helping to build support for implementation. As with the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, a body exists – the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – that can provide objective, scientific underpinnings to such targets.

The deal must also have mechanisms to attract finance, based on the economic importance of protecting natural ecosystems. Such a deal would recognize the strong linkages between development and nature conservation, in the same way that the connections between climate action and sustainable development are increasingly acknowledged.

A global deal for nature must also allow for the close involvement of non-state actors, again as has been so successfully demonstrated with the Paris Agreement. While any agreement must be the result of an intergovernmental process, it should ensure that civil society, business and finance joins government at the state, region and local levels to ensure implementation.

Political will needed to advance a new deal in 2020
What is required now is the political will to move towards such a deal in 2020. The 14th CBD COP, taking place in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt at the moment, has started to build consensus through its high level segment meetings.  Countries such as Egypt and China as host countries of the CBD COP14 and COP15 in 2020, are showing leadership on a crucial global issue, mirroring their strong commitment on climate change.

A new deal for people and nature – it’s possible!

Three key actions coming out of the high level segment at the CBD COP14 show that things have started happening, and that we can view the future with optimism and reach the objective by 2020.

  • First, the Secretariat of the CBD, together with the Governments of Egypt and China, launched the Sharm El-Sheikh to Beijing Action Agenda for Nature and People during the High Level Segment;
  • Second, the Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration Investing in Biodiversity for People and Planet, issued at the end of the event, invited the UN General Assembly to convene a heads of state summit on biodiversity before the CBD COP15 in 2020. In addition, a post-2020 global biodiversity framework and vision to 2050 was discussed during the sessions. It was attended by the Egyptian Minister of Environment, an EU Commissioner, and China’s vice minister for Ecology and Environment. This framework and vision highlights the urgency of action at the highest levels. The possibility of a global deal for nature and people was also raised during the event.
  • Finally, it was announced that the Action Agenda for Nature and People will be hosted on an online platform to receive and showcase concrete commitments and contributions to biodiversity, from stakeholders across all sectors, in the run-up to COP15. This will enable the mapping of global efforts on biodiversity, in order to estimate impact and to identify key gaps.

Fundamentally, we are working together, state and non-state actors a collective vision for nature that sees habitat and biodiversity loss reversed, and that acknowledges the links between healthy ecosystems and healthy human societies and economies. It should bring together governments and non-state actors together in a bottom-up process that moves the world towards a breakthrough deal in 2020.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is the leader of WWF’s global climate and energy programme.  He is based in Berlin, Germany.

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