Achieving high ambitions from down below.

Coral reefs and the New Deal for Nature & People: Carol Phua of WWF’s Ocean Practice explains why world leaders need to include and commit to ecosystem-specific indicators in the Global Biodiversity Framework.

Tom Vierus / WWF-US

Next year, parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will sign onto a new Global Biodiversity Framework. With the right level of ambition, this could bring much needed change to our world by setting us on a path to halt and then reverse the decline in biodiversity — even becoming “nature-positive” by 2030.

It is an enormous goal that requires us to aim high, while also compelling us to remain firmly grounded in the specific actions required to achieve it.

With the continued, rapid loss of biodiversity and less than a decade left to reach our agreed target, we have a long way to go and not much time.

Bending the curve of biodiversity loss

The WWF Living Planet Report 2020 confirms what nature has been telling us repeatedly: unsustainable human activity is pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge. Despite the commitments made by governments in 2010 to take effective and urgent action to bend the curve of biodiversity loss, we know from the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published by the CBD, that the world has not met these commitments. Nature today is still being changed and destroyed at a rate unprecedented in history.

This continued downward trajectory of biodiversity brings devastating consequences for all of us and undermines our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including poverty alleviation and food, water, and energy security. The loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue, but a development, economic, global security, ethical, and moral one.

With COVID-19 joining the list of deadly diseases that have jumped from animals to people, we are now seeing, on a global scale, the impacts of disturbing and destroying nature. Harming nature is harmful to our health.

Measuring our progress with coral reefs

Coral reefs are among our planet’s most vulnerable ecosystems. These dynamic, diverse habitats support a quarter of all marine life, provide shoreline protection to coastal communities, and food and economic security to billions of people. They are also the foundation of many cultures and contribute to the well-being of societies.

Jürgen Freund / WWF

It is hard to imagine a healthy planet without coral reefs. The reality, however, is that we have already lost half of the world’s coral reefs in the past 30 years and stand to lose as much as 90 per cent by mid century if trends continue. The Red List Index, based on data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, shows that corals are severely declining. These ancient ecosystems are disappearing at such an alarming rate because of climate change and many other destructive human activities. This impending future will have devastating impacts on people. We are looking at losing up to US$6 billion in income from direct fishing jobs and as much as US$36 billion annually from coral reef-related tourism alone. The coral reef crisis we are facing is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen.

Because of the real and urgent need to safeguard coral reef ecosystems from potential collapse, members of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) adopted a recommendation that strongly encourages CBD parties to prioritise coral reefs by including clear, specific, and actionable indicators. These include measuring the quality and function of coral reefs including live coral cover, coral reef extent, and fish abundance. These indicators will help inform interventions aimed at improving reef health.

As an active member of ICRI, WWF fully supports this recommendation and calls on world leaders to adopt and commit to it. It is an effective way for countries to monitor their progress against the targets and goals of the Global Biodiversity Framework at a national level, determine which interventions are working, and adjust conservation measures accordingly. These metrics will also improve the consistency of global and regional data, contributing to a more informative overview of changes in coral reef systems over time.

Coral reefs make effective indicators primarily because of their vulnerability to local impacts from land-based pollution such as input of nutrients and sediments from agriculture, sea-based pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices among many others. This is why their integrity and resilience should be linked with other SDG targets and used as a critical gauge in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Indicators and action

To help efforts to safeguard globally-significant coral reefs and reef-dependent communities worldwide, WWF is leading the Coral Reef Rescue Initiative, a global consortium of conservation and development organizations including the Wildlife Conservation Society, Rare, CARE International, Blue Ventures, the University of Queensland, and Vulcan Inc. Combining knowledge and expertise, building on tried-and-tested interventions as well as the latest science and emerging innovations, the partners are working with communities and governments to develop integrated nature-based solutions that can be widely replicated and scaled up.

With proper monitoring and evaluation in coral reef sites where direct interventions are happening, this initiative aims to contribute to building a robust global knowledge base to help leaders make the right decision at the right time within the CBD and SDG processes.

A framework for a better world

To bring about the greatest possible outcome at the CBD meeting in 2021, the Global Biodiversity Framework must drive clear, collective actions at all levels — a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. This must be supported by measurable targets and solutions on the ground and in the water, which include ecosystem-specific indicators to ensure that valuable habitats, such as coral reefs, do not get overlooked during implementation.

The framework offers a way for us to strike a New Deal for Nature & People, a way to rebalance our relationship with the natural world and secure a sustainable and healthy future for people and planet. If we are able to secure government, private sector, and civil society commitments to take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity, ensure resilient ecosystems, and switch to nature-positive practices, the next 10 years could usher in a transition to a world where nature and people thrive.

It is ambitious. Nevertheless, it is doable if we continue to keep our sights not only way up high, but also down below where the real battles are happening.

Building a future in which people live in harmony with nature.