A wake-up call on biodiversity

Keith Hayward

The latest edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) should provide a wake-up call about our alarming trajectory. One is certainly needed.

The past 10 years have been the UN Decade on Biodiversity. This was to have been the time to deliver on the 2010 plan agreed by the parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity at their meeting that year in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan. The latest GBO, the fifth to date, essentially provides a final assessment of progress on 20 Aichi targets. Its verdict is that the global community only managed to partially achieve six of these. Not one was achieved in full. Any progress on the other 14 is not even worthy of the partially achieved status.

Biodiversity as an issue needs to be embraced and acted upon by all

Of five overall goals, the biggest indictment is on one to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society. Four targets span awareness and the integration of biodiversity into national planning and reporting. They include elimination of harmful subsidies, and for sustainable production and consumption to keep use of natural resources well within safe ecological limits. None has been achieved. Another goal was to reduce direct pressures on biodiversity. Targets covering aspects such as habitat loss, fisheries, agriculture, pollution, and vulnerable ecosystems, such as coral reefs, were not met.

So GBO-5 should act as a wake-up call. As to whether it will, it is also clear that we have been here before. The Convention was launched at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and rapidly gained the signatures it needed – a high point that nonetheless reflected a scale of concern that had built over preceding decades. The first edition of the GBO was published in 2001, ahead of the 2002 Rio+10 World Summit on Sustainable Development. This showed that “the condition of biodiversity in the world’s major ecosystems continues to deteriorate, almost without exception and often at an accelerating rate”. It anticipated a plan of action to 2010, yet the third edition of the GBO, published then, concluded that “the target to substantially slow the loss of biodiversity by the end of the first decade of this century had not been met”.

The 2010 plan aimed to provide an overarching framework “not only for the biodiversity-related conventions, but for the entire United Nations system and all other partners engaged in biodiversity management and policy development”. This wording signals the direction for any hope of progress. Biodiversity as an issue needs to be embraced and acted upon by all. As a sector that shapes and impacts our natural environment, and that fundamentally relies on this same environment, the water sector should be at the forefront of a push for greater action.

Keith Hayward, Editor