- Conservation and restoration need to be accompanied by bold targets addressing the drivers of nature’s decline worldwide, says Argentine ecologist and IPBES Global Assessment Co-Chair Sandra Diaz.
- Scientific inputs by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have directly contributed to the targets and goals of the draft Global Biodiversity Framework, currently under negotiations at COP15 in Canada.
- An effective Framework to halt biodiversity loss and reverse the decline of nature needs to be ambitious with measurable targets and focus on halting drivers of biodiversity loss, said Diaz.
Ambitious and quantitative targets, with a focus on tackling the drivers of biodiversity decline, should be reflected in a successful Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), says Sandra Diaz, Argentine ecologist and co-chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Global Assessment, which underpins the science-based targets of the framework, currently under negotiations at United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Canada.
In a landmark report in 2019, the IPBES, an independent science and policy group, estimated that one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. The report identified the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution and invasive alien species.
“And, crucially, the indirect drivers of change are the root causes (with global impacts), such as the way we consume, eat, use energy, trade and the ideas we have of what a fulfilling life is. With the support of IPBES, many of the draft targets in the GBF are now quantitative and ambitious,” Diaz told Mongabay-India in an email interview, amid the negotiations.
Revised Global Biodiversity Framework targets
The draft GBF, set to replace the Aichi targets, comprises a suite of 22 action-oriented targets and four goals proposed for 2030. The targets will aid humans “living in harmony” with nature by 2050. The GBF targets range from reducing pollution, preventing or reducing the rate of introduction of invasive alien species, to all businesses assessing and reporting on their dependence and impacts on biodiversity and reducing their negative impacts.
Some of the measurable targets include reduction of pesticides by two thirds (Target 7), a reduction in the subsidies to activities harmful for biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year (Target 18), a halving of the negative impacts on biodiversity of business and financial institutions (Target 15).
“Most of these numbers are in brackets at present, meaning there is disagreement among the Parties about them. I hope those brackets are removed and in the final version, the targets are not reduced to vague, diluted aspirations. A key aspect of a successful GBF would simply be ‘stop doing harm to nature’. And start now and be precise and bold in the levels to be achieved,” Diaz said referring to the current state of discussions on the targets.
In a recent article ahead of COP15 negotiations, Diaz warned that the “COP15 biodiversity plan risks being alarmingly diluted”, exhorting governments gathering in Montreal to be “brave, long-sighted and open-hearted, and to produce a visionary, ambitious biodiversity framework, grounded in knowledge.”
After multiple pushbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments began the final round of negotiations at COP15 in Canada to seal a new deal, the GBF, a landmark agreement to halt biodiversity loss.
Important assessments that gave scientific inputs
Referring to the IPBES Global Assessment as the “single most important scientific input into the GBF”, Diaz elaborated that it contributed major concepts, such as the direct and indirect drivers into which a whole section of the GBF targets is organised. “It contributed the inclusive notion of nature’s contributions to people, embracing ecosystem services, nature’s gifts and similar concepts that different disciplines and knowledge systems use to refer to all the things nature does for us and with us.”
The Global Assessment, along with other spin-off assessments that involve IPBES scientists (Diaz et al. 2020 Science, Obura et al. 2021 Science and Leadley et al. 2022 One Earth) are reflected in GBF’s themes on ecosystems, species, populations and genetic diversity within and among populations. “And genetic diversity of domesticated plants and animals, as well as that of wild species,” Diaz added. “They have also contributed to make the draft targets quantitative, pointing to what levels would be ambitious enough, which ones too low, and which ones would be great but unfeasible. Overall, IPBES has provided technical teeth to the policy aspirations involved in achieving the vision of the CBD of ‘living in harmony with nature by 2050’.”
While Global Assessment has informed almost all targets of the GBF, the thematic assessments released this year have also contributed to the targets. For example, the Sustainable Use of Wild Species assessment relates directly to Targets 5 (ensuring trade and use of wild species is sustainable, safe and legal) and 9 (ensuring management of wild species is sustainable, thereby providing social, economic and environmental benefits to people) and the Values Assessment, to Target 14 (full integration of biodiversity and its multiple values in policies, planning, regulations and development processes).
One of the ongoing assessments that tackles invasive alien species (IAS) is identified by IPBES as one of the five major direct drivers of nature’s decline worldwide. IAS are responsible for nearly 40% of all animal extinctions since the 17th century, where the cause is known. According to a study, India has lost $127.3 billion (Rs. 8.3 trillion) in the last 60 years to invasive alien species, making the South Asian nation the second most invasion-cost bearing country after the United States. Environmental losses from introduced pests in Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States are estimated to reach over $100 billion per year.
“Of course, their impact is heterogeneous, being devastating in some areas, for example islands, and insignificant in other areas. Nature’s contributions to people (NCP) are central to this issue because invasive alien species often produce a sharp decrease in the capacity of ecosystems to deliver benefits and, on the other hand, one of the major reasons why many invasive alien species are deliberately introduced to new areas is because they produce some benefits to some social actors,” said Diaz.
For example, plants with ornamental value such as the firethorn or the common lantana, animals that are introduced with recreational hunting and fishing purposes like wild boars or trouts, or organisms introduced in the hope to control other organisms such as cane toad.
“So, NCP are involved on both sides of the equation to understand the role of people in spreading invasive alien species,” she added.
Bold targets needed to prevent another ‘decade of inaction’
Diaz emphasises that time-bound targets can help prevent another “decade of inaction” referring to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were agreed upon in 2010, none of which, according to a 2020 CBD report, were fully met.
In a new study, published ahead of COP15, an international team of scientists from the Earth Commission, convened by Future Earth, a global network of scientists, researchers and innovators collaborating for a sustainable planet, say that efforts to meet new targets and goals for the next three decades risk repeating past outcomes due to three factors: neglect of increasing drivers of decline; unrealistic expectations and time frames of biodiversity recovery; and insufficient attention to justice within and between generations and across countries.
“It is true that halting and reversing nature’s decline takes time, because in many cases the organisms involved are slow growing. It is true that in some cases full recovery to a previous state would be very difficult or even impossible. But this does not mean that we cannot put nature onto the path of recovery by 2030. Some properties of some ecosystems will need more time, some would never go back to the baseline state, but many processes in many ecosystems can be restored to a very significant degree,” stressed Diaz.
Setting 2030 as first milestone is important to gauge progress along the path to 2050. “But here the latest science tells something very important: restoration and conservation alone are not going to be enough. In order to put nature realistically onto the path of recovery, conservation and restoration need to be accompanied by bold targets tackling the root causes of nature’s decline worldwide,” she said.
As a macroecologist studying plant traits, Diaz shared that the extinction risk of plant species is “very high.”
“According to a recent stock-taking by Kew Garden scientists, the percentage of all vascular plants threatened with extinction is nearly 40%. This is the overall number; there are some plant groups more threatened than others. For example, cycads, a very ancient lineage of slow-growing plants typical of areas with little human disturbance, have higher risk, whereas legumes, a huge, widespread and highly heterogenous group with species adapted to many different habitats, have a lower risk,” she said.
‘On the right track in terms of gender representation’
As a woman in STEM, Diaz observes that the participation of women in all aspects of the biodiversity assessment and negotiations has “significantly improved” in the past few years.
“The presence is much more visible than it used to be, and all the process has become much more aware of gender issues. Not only you see more women taking leading roles in the assessment and negotiation processes, the lens through which the construction of knowledge is examined is changing too. For example, in the technical assessments about the uses of biodiversity and its trends and future scenarios, the gender dimension, hardly present a few years ago, is now prominently considered. And more and more field and literature studies focus on the links between gender and biodiversity issues. There is still a long way to go, but I am confident that we are on the right track and progress will be fast,” Diaz noted.
Banner image: (Left) Sandra Diaz, Argentine ecologist and co-chair of the IPBES Global Assessment, says that the indirect drivers of change such as the way we consume, eat, use energy, trade, and the ideas we have of what is a fulfilling life, impact nature. Photo by Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation)/Wikimedia Commons. (Right) Coral reef in the Andamans. Photo by Harvinder Chandigarh/Wikimedia Commons.