October 2021 was an important month for crisis meetings. There was the big event, COP26, where policymakers descended on Glasgow to spend a frantic two weeks figuring out how to meet the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement and keep global warming below 1.5. degree Celsius. But earlier this month, a different crisis meeting took place that almost completely went under the radar – one that will have huge implications for the future of every living thing on our planet.
The world is in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. Birds, mammals and amphibians are disappearing at least 100 to 1,000 times faster than they were in millions of years before humans began to rule the planet. In the past 500 years alone, human activity has forced 869 species to become extinct, according to data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). If things continue at their current pace, we are on track for a sixth mass extinction, the first since that infamous dinosaur-ending disaster 65 million years ago, which sparked an extinction event. which ultimately destroyed 76% of all species.
This time around, there is no giant asteroid to blame. Humans transformed the planet, turning half of all habitable land into agriculture and replacing wild animals with cattle. In the oceans, we continue the trend that our ancestors started on earth tens of thousands of years ago: chasing large species until they collapse and leaving mainly smaller species behind. In other words, biodiversity is desperately in bad shape.
“We are gradually realizing that there are two big crises going on, and we should act better on both,” says Almut Arneth, a biologist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. On October 11, delegates to the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity came together virtually to do just that. They were trying to agree on a new set of global goals that can stop the dramatic decline in global biodiversity – a Paris Accord-style plan to reset our relationship with nature. These goals will be discussed and finalized at a second meeting to be held in Kunming, China, in April 2022.
The last time parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity met to define a global biodiversity agenda was in Japan in 2010, where they proposed the Aichi Targets, a set of 20 targets. aimed at reducing a range of environmental damage, including habitat. losses, overfishing and pollution over the next decade. But these goals were difficult to measure and countries were not required to report their progress accurately. In September 2020, a UN report found that none of the Aichi Targets had been fully met and only six of them had been partially met.
The Kunming meeting is an attempt to get global biodiversity goals back on track. “This is a watershed moment,” says Henrique Miguel Pereira, head of the biodiversity conservation research group at the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research. The first draft of the so-called Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework was released in July and sets out four major goals to be achieved by 2050, as well as 21 more specific goals that will be assessed in 2030. While the Aichi Targets tended to be a bit vague, these post-2020 targets add a bit of digital spice.