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  • Writer's pictureFiona Smith

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 'final report card' - 'transformative changes are required'

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 has issued a 'final report card' on progress on the Aichi biodiversity targets - and the results are not good. But many experts believe there is still hope for the future of our planet if we all work together to act now - with "8 transformative changes" required.

Launched ahead of the key UN summit on the issue scheduled for September 30, the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report found that, despite progress in some areas, the international community has failed to meet any of the 20 of the targets agreed in Japan in 2010. Just six of these were judged to be partially achieved.

Our natural habitats have continued to vanish, vast numbers of species are threatened by extinction from human activities, and $500bn of environmentally damaging government subsidies have not yet been eliminated. (Read the Guardian's story here.)

The UN’s biodiversity head, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, believes 'humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations'. She commented:

"Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged. Nevertheless, the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying.

“As nature degrades, new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made.”

'Transformative change' is a phrase repeated 14 times throughout the report, and means redefining targets and developing concrete ways of measuring progress globally, and putting biodiversity at the foundation of policies that shape how we produce, consume, plan and build. The report's recommendations are:

  1. The land and forests transition: conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems, combating and reversing degradation, and employing landscape-level spatial planning to avoid, reduce and mitigate land-use change.

  2. The sustainable agriculture transition: redesigning agricultural systems through agro-ecological and other innovative approaches to enhance productivity while minimising negative impacts on biodiversity.

  3. The sustainable food systems transition: enabling sustainable and healthy diets with a greater emphasis on a diversity of foods, mostly plant-based, and more moderate consumption of meat and fish, as well as dramatic cuts in the waste involved in food supply and consumption.

  4. The sustainable fisheries and oceans transition: protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, rebuilding fisheries and managing aquaculture and other uses of the oceans to ensure sustainability, and to enhance food security and livelihoods.

  5. The cities and infrastructure transition: deploying “green infrastructure” and making space for nature within built landscapes to improve the health and quality of life for citizens and to reduce the environmental footprint of cities and infrastructure.

  6. The sustainable freshwater transition: an integrated approach guaranteeing the water flows required by nature and people, improving water quality, protecting critical habitats, controlling invasive species and safeguarding connectivity to allow the recovery of freshwater systems from mountains to coasts.

  7. The sustainable climate action transition: employing nature-based solutions, alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, to reduce the scale and impacts of climate change, while providing positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainable development goals.

  8. The biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition: managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people.

Lead author of the report and deputy executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, David Cooper, said: “We are still seeing so much more public money invested in things that harm biodiversity than in things that support biodiversity.”

Mike Shanahan of the Under the Banyan blog spoke to Robert Watson, former chair of both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for his thoughts on what can be done - he agrees we need to scrap harmful subsidies and sees incorporating natural capital into decision-making as one key path to progress.

He said: “We have to get rid or significantly reduce these environmentally harmful subsidies in energy, agriculture and transportation.

'We should incorporate the value of natural capital into decision-making.'

"We should internalise our social and environmental costs in the market price of a substance.

We should create a more circular economy where we look at sustainable production. And, with subsidies, we could actually stimulate more sustainable practices in the way many governments have subsidised renewable energy to get it to break into the market and to scale it up.”

This National Geographic piece recommends making a push for biodiversity to be considered a human right, making the targets binding, and appreciating and aiding the valuable work done by indigenous populations to help preserve natural ecosystems. It reminds us that some of the most famous environmental successes in modern history - like a near-global ban on industrial whaling - were "at their heart driven by individuals or groups who mobilised, creating demand for businesses to offer better choices and kick-starting an upward spiral that eventually reached decision-makers".

NB: The Irish Forum on Natural Capital has launched a Business & Biodiversity project in Ireland - read more about our online event for business here.

You can watch the online launch of the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 below.

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