One of the recent climate conference’s many failings has been brought to light by experts and activists. The UN climate talks ended on 20 November without a prominent mention of biodiversity in the final text.
Critics say the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s conference of the parties (COP27) missed a key opportunity to acknowledge the connection between the climate and extinction crises, two emergencies that are deeply intertwined.
Failure is not an option
The co-chair of the UN biodiversity negotiations, Basile van Havre, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that:
This is because failing to address both could mean not only further decimating Earth’s life support systems but also missing the key climate target of limiting warming to under 1.5°C.
Scientists say limiting warming to 1.5°C is a guardrail against catastrophic climate impacts, with the world currently way off track and heading for around 2.5°C by the end of the century under current commitments and plans.
Global authorities have a last ditch chance to meaningfully address the extinction crisis, and to assist with tackling the related climate crisis, in December. The UN biodiversity talks – COP15 – are taking place in Montreal, Canada, from 7 to 19 December. At the event, countries will meet to hammer out a new framework to protect animals and plants from further destruction by humans.
The destruction of nature also risks worsening climate change. The ocean, for example, has absorbed most of the excess heat created by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and, along with forests, is an important carbon sink.
Brian O’Donnell, director of Campaign for Nature, described the ocean as an unsung ‘superhero’ to AFP, due to its absorption of carbon and heat. This has come at great cost to the ocean itself, and all the lives that call it home, such as through the acidification of the marine environment and coral-killing heatwaves. Acidification is the change in ocean chemistry that’s occurring due to our excessive carbon emissions.
As the world warms, protecting species and ecosystems will also play a crucial role in building resilience for all planetary life, including humans. Mangroves, for example, can protect against coastal erosion caused by rising seas linked to a warming planet.
The UN has typically treated the climate and biodiversity crises distinctly, with each getting their own COP meetings, and each being managed by its own institution: climate by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and biodiversity by the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).
Indeed, a further interconnected COP is currently underway – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) conference of the parties (COP19). This conference is tightly linked to the extinction crisis, and therefore climate, as it determines what impact the vast wildlife trade has on species’ survival.
Energy policy has typically dominated the climate talks, and plastic and pesticide pollution have been more the preserve of the biodiversity talks. But aspects of these issues and many others, including food production, indigenous land rights, protections of oceans and forests, are intertwined.
Perhaps the most attention the natural world got at COP27 came during a visit by Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who will take office in January.
He has vowed to halt the rampant deforestation of the Amazon seen under incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, and announced during the climate talks plans to create a ministry for indigenous people, the custodians of the rainforest.
The “30 by 30” biodiversity target also recieved a boost when a bloc of West African nations vowed to adhere to the goal of protecting 30 percent of the natural world by 2030.
Biodiversity received a nod in the final COP27 text, including in a paragraph highlighting:
“the urgent need to address, in a comprehensive and synergetic manner, the interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss”.
However, the upcoming COP15 meeting in Montreal, which is tasked with setting out an ambitious plan for humanity’s relationship with nature for the coming decades, did not recieve the encouragement many were hoping for. Senior global policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia Li Shuo told AFP:
It is a missed opportunity that COP15, taking place just in two weeks’ time, did not get a highlight by COP27
Zoe Quiroz Cullen, head of climate and nature linkages at Fauna & Flora International, also said it was “deeply concerning” that the text “fails to recognise the crucial linkage to COP27’s sister convention on nature”, the UN CBD. She warned that:
The twin climate and biodiversity crises are at risk from being considered and treated in silos
In the long term, neglecting nature could mean the unabated destruction of ecosystems and species – and missing the Paris Agreement climate goals.
“We cannot meet the 1.5 degree target for climate without bold action on nature,” Campaign for Nature director O’Donnell argued, adding that:
We need to solve them both if we want to have a liveable planet for future generations.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Featured image via the Economist / YouTube
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