Monday 21st September 2020
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Humanity at a crossroads, UN warns in state of nature overview

Despite encouraging progress in several areas, the natural world is suffering badly and getting worse. Eight transformative changes are, therefore, urgently needed to ensure human wellbeing and save the planet, the UN warns in a major report.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema
CBD Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema

The report comes as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges people to rethink their relationship with nature, and to consider the profound consequences to their own wellbeing and survival that can result from continued biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems.

The “Global Biodiversity Outlook 5” (GBO-5), published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), offers an authoritative overview of the state of nature. It is a final report card on progress against the 20 global biodiversity targets agreed in 2010 with a 2020 deadline, and offers lessons learned and best practices for getting on track.

“This flagship report underlines that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations’,” said CBD Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

“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.  Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised.  And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”

“As nature degrades,” Ms. Mrema continued, “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.”

“The decisions and level of action we take now will have profound consequences – for good or ill – for all species, including ours.”

With respect to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, set in 2010, the analysis based on the 6th set of national reports to the CBD and the latest scientific findings shows that seven of 60 “elements” – success criteria – within the 20 targets have been achieved and 38 show progress.

In the case of 13 elements, no progress was made, or a move away from the target was indicated, and for two elements the level of progress is unknown. The report concludes that, overall, of the 20 targets, six of them (9, 11, 16, 17, 19 and 20) were partially achieved by the 2020 deadline.

By partially met, GBO5 refers to targets where at least one distinct element has been met. For example, the elements of Target 11 regarding the proportions of lands and seas protected was met, but the elements related to the quality of protected areas were not. Similarly, for Target 19, biodiversity knowledge has improved but it has not been widely shared or applied. For Target 20, official development assistance doubled but resources did not increase from all sources.

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António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations, said: “As we emerge from the immediate impacts of the pandemic, we have an unprecedented opportunity to ‘build back better’, incorporating the transitions outlined in this Outlook and embodied in an ambitious plan to put the world on track to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.

“Part of this new agenda must be to tackle the twin global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in a more coordinated manner, understanding both that climate change threatens to undermine all other efforts to conserve biodiversity; and that nature itself offers some of the most effective solutions to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet.”

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): “Now, we must accelerate and scale-up collaboration for nature-positive outcomes – conserving, restoring and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably. If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.

“This will further damage human health, economies and societies – with particularly detrimental effects on indigenous peoples and local communities. We know what needs to be done, what works and how we can achieve good results. If we build on what has already been achieved, and place biodiversity at the heart of all our policies and decisions – including in COVID-19 recovery packages – we can ensure a better future for our societies and the planet.

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General, CITES: “We need global, swift and transformative action to halt the decline of our planet’s biological diversity and the loss of wild species of fauna and flora across ecosystems. The fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook can arm decision-makers with the facts and knowledge needed to move towards meeting these urgent challenges.”

Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General, Convention on Wetlands: “Our dependence on nature is more evident today than ever. The GBO-5 is a call for action to reverse biodiversity loss and ensure our health, wellbeing, and prosperity. The report highlights the rapid global decline of wetlands that affects water availability, as well as the 40% of the planet’s species which live in these ecosystems. Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands are committed to wetland conservation and wise use as a key element of the post-2020 biodiversity framework.”

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Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): “The 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook, launched just before the first UN Biodiversity Summit, paints a stark message – that we are continuing to lose biodiversity, our essential planetary safety net. We are not on track to meet most of Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and we know that the loss of nature poses grave consequences for us all. However, there are reasons for hope.

“The report shows that we are on track to have at least 17% of terrestrial protected areas and 10% marine protected areas by the end of 2020 – a remarkable accomplishment from where we were a decade ago. This tells us we can do more, and we must do more, in the coming decade of action.”

Ana María Hernández, Chair, Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): “As the Chair of IPBES, I welcome the 5th edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook.  IPBES is proud to have contributed to GBO-5, in particular through our Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. GBO-5 includes, among several new sources of evidence, an interesting analysis of the 6 th national reports provided by countries on the state of their biodiversity. 

“Sadly, GBO-5 confirms that none of the 20 Aichi Targets have been fully achieved. GBO-5 calls for transformative change in eight areas and IPBES is currently preparing two directly relevant reports: one on transformative change, and the other on ways to simultaneously achieve the SDGs related to water, food, health, energy, climate and biodiversity. Together I believe that they will form a strong body of knowledge to further inform the work of the CBD in the post-2020 era. 

“It is my great hope that all of the evidence, expertise and options now available to Parties at CBD COP 15 will finally raise the level of awareness about the severe and ongoing reduction of biodiversity and raise both the level of ambition and the resources needed to address this tragedy.”

Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary, Convention on Migratory Species (CMS): “The Global Biodiversity Outlook report underscores that global efforts have failed to address the growing global biodiversity crisis or achieve agreed targets. Urgent action and real commitment are needed to reverse the trends of biodiversity loss and the threat of extinction of as many as one million species, including migratory species of wild animals.”

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Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International: “We cannot afford to ignore the findings of this major report. Despite some progress, the loss of nature continues unabated, highlighting not only a failure of our moral duty to preserve Earth’s diversity of life, but also the undermining of the very natural systems that support human health and the global economy. Importantly, the report also tells us that halting and reversing biodiversity loss is entirely possible, by protecting more of the remaining natural spaces, curbing wildlife overexploitation and, crucially, reforming the way we produce and consume food.

“World leaders must take decisive action now – not later – to set nature on the path to recovery this decade and secure a nature-positive economy. They will have an important opportunity to raise ambition at the UN Summit on Biodiversity later this month ahead of the UN biodiversity negotiations next year.”

Qu Dongyu, Director-General, The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO): “It is very important to see a global report highlighting the limited progress made in recent years towards the global biodiversity targets pointing to the need to step up our efforts (collectively and holistically) to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity.

“The report confirms the findings of various other reports, including FAO’s 2019 report on The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. As the adoption of its Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agricultural Sectors shows, we are more committed than ever to work for fair, healthy and sustainable agri-food systems.”

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, UN Convention to Combat Desertification: “The news of our slow progress in achieving the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets set for 2020 should give us pause, coming as it does during the worst global pandemic in nearly 100 years. Reckless land use change is now not only leading to the loss of biological diversity; it is enabling the emergence of new infectious diseases in which alien viruses spread from the wild to humans. 

“The Global Land Outlook 5 is clear about where to focus our attention to live in harmony with nature. But we have one shot – a decade – to make swift progress and with impact. The choices of our action or inaction are as stark as they are clear. Let us choose actions for a greener future where ecosystems thrive.”

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