We must work together to secure global plan that can reverse nature loss for a nature-positive world

© naturepl.com / Neil Aldridge / WWF

Nature is in crisis, putting people and the future of our planet as we know it at risk. Science tells us that one million species are now threatened with extinction. We need action, urgently. But international meetings have been postponed and progress has been slow. Now, the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP15 has been confirmed to take place 5–17 December in Montreal, Canada, relocated from Kunming, with China retaining the presidency. This decision is welcome as it provides much-needed certainty and a timeline for securing an ambitious global plan to address nature loss.

We are at a critical juncture for nature. The time is now to seize the moment and secure a ‘Paris’-style agreement to reverse biodiversity loss before it’s too late. The post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, due to be adopted this year at COP15, presents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure an ambitious and transformative global plan to reverse nature loss, in support of climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Country negotiators were able to meet in person in Geneva in March, after a two-year delay due to the covid-19 pandemic. That was the third round of negotiations and the time and engagement spent in the process is laudable. Yet with a lengthy schedule and lack of agreement from countries, the pace of negotiations was pedestrian and it resulted in another, fourth and hopefully final meeting being scheduled in Nairobi, Kenya, ahead of COP15 itself.

Starting Tuesday, government negotiators have gathered in Nairobi for the fourth round of negotiations, with an unexpectedly high number of party negotiators and non-state actors participating. These talks are crucial to ensuring we go into COP15 with a strong and relatively clean draft text for the final plan for nature. So far, we have seen mixed progress, with countries urgently needing to find common ground in the coming days to increase ambition.

Unless the draft plan contains all the necessary elements needed to reverse the loss of nature by 2030 for a nature-positive world, we could face a flop in Montreal, or the adoption of a weak agreement that does not tackle our accelerating nature crisis. Neither is an option, for people or for the planet, and so it remains of utmost importance that we work together in the time left this week to ensure a comprehensive, science-based agreement arrives at COP15 for adoption.

How to secure a successful roadmap for nature

A successful plan for nature will deliver immediate action on the ground and the transformative change that is needed to secure a nature-positive world by 2030, meaning that we end this decade with more nature, not less.

A global goal of reversing biodiversity loss to be ‘Nature Positive by 2030’ is essential to drive action across society. It would unite countries behind one shared mission, similar to the 1.5C goal adopted by the Paris Agreement on climate change, and guide all elements of the framework towards an outcome that benefits people and nature.

WWF, alongside other environmental groups, is calling for countries to embrace this global goal and released a new paper in March detailing how we can track progress towards achieving a nature-positive world by 2030.

It is essential that negotiators in Nairobi bridge the gap between existing political commitments and the draft agreement as it is now.

Progress and set-backs

Importantly, there has been significant support in the negotiations so far for a target of protecting and restoring 30% of land and water by 2030 through a rights-based approach. Strong support for a target on gender equality and the inclusion of the right to a healthy environment is also very positive. These elements must be confirmed in the text as soon as possible to ease the process and leave more time to focus on the remaining unresolved issues.

At the same time, the last round of negotiations in Geneva saw slow progress in several areas. Concerningly, the weak ambition on species looks to have continued in Nairobi, with countries indicating they support a goal of halting species extinction by 2030. This is a lower ambition level that we saw at Aichi.

As such, we are eagerly engaging here in Nairobi and pushing to narrow the gaps and get text agreed as much as possible.

Addressing the drivers of biodiversity loss

We must not forget that human activities are causing nature to decline at unprecedented rates — population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970. In the last 50 years, our world has been transformed by an explosion in global consumption and production and infrastructure development. This puts a huge amount of pressure on the natural world around us, leading to impacts like habitat loss, overfishing and climate change to name just three.

The world has awakened to the clear need to address these impacts but we must go much further if we are to reverse this catastrophic loss of nature. Humans have cut down half of all tropical forests since the 1960s, mostly replacing them with monoculture farms and pastures — agricultural activities have had the largest impact on ecosystems. The crises of habitat loss and overexploitation have driven countless species to or near extinction, while climate change is accelerated by, and in turn amplifies, these crises.

A commitment to halve our footprint of production and consumption by 2030, including targets ensuring a just and nature-positive transformation of our broken food systems and of other key economic sectors and businesses, must be integrated into the global plan for nature currently being negotiated. Reflecting on the way we produce and consume — including food and agriculture, infrastructure, forestry, fisheries, and finance — is essential if we are to protect nature, food security and nutrition, human health and our economies. This is a priority for WWF in Nairobi.

© Ola Jennersten / WWF-Sweden

Leadership and action is essential

Current events, not least a global pandemic, a war in Europe, and continuing political uncertainty in many countries, mean it is not easy for countries to come together and agree on one clear way forward for our planet. Despite the challenges, convergence is needed to ensure the adoption of a strong biodiversity agreement in Montreal.

An ambitious agreement, if backed up by a strong implementation mechanism with a regular cycle of check-backs, reviews and ratcheting up implementation efforts, alongside sufficient financing to reverse biodiversity loss, can help guide countries’ own national action plans that put nature and people at the heart.

Finance that is detrimental to nature is one of the most obvious areas that is damaging our natural world, yet one where there appears the least consensus. Our world is on fire, and we are pouring oil on the fire in the form of finance that is harmful to biodiversity. We drastically need to change course.

Financing nature has three parts — reducing and redirecting incentives that are harmful to nature, repurposing and realigning actions and investments that are harmful to those that are positive for nature, and increasing nature-positive financing and investments. Developing countries should be supported with adequate financial resources to implement the Global Biodiversity Framework. We have only one home. We need leadership from all parties on all those three dimensions, domestically and globally, taking consideration of their capacity and specific situations.

© Justin Jin / WWF France

Leadership is the only way to overcome these challenges on the path to a future where we live in harmony with nature. Countries must step up to this challenge and use the remaining time in Nairobi as an opportunity to pave the way to a sustainable future for all.

Civil society, and every one of us, must hold governments accountable to the promises they’ve made, and help bring the final plan to life. The whole of governments and the whole of society need to hit the ground running with a plan that is ready to put into practice as soon as it is accepted. Already two years have gone by in the decade of action for nature, there is no more time to lose!

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