The most underrated global meeting of the year is about to take place.
The meeting is the second part of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity (aka COP-15). It is sometimes called the Global Biodiversity Summit for short. It will take place from April 25 to May 8 in Kunming, China.
As its official name suggests, it is the 15th step towards the implementation of the International Convention on Biodiversity, first presented for ratification at the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Brazil, and now signed by 196 countries. Only four countries are not parties to the convention: Andorra, Iraq, Somalia and the United States.
The meeting is important because it is this year’s major international effort to combat biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity loss is one of the top three environmental threats to our planet, as recognized in last year’s UN report ‘Making Peace with Nature’, alongside climate change and pollution, requiring our immediate attention. Of course, the three threats are interdependent and all can be aggravated by the same causes. This was made abundantly clear when the possibility of a “nuclear winter” was first recognized decades ago.
Biodiversity, or biological diversity, includes all the complexity and variation that exists in life on Earth.
It’s all the species of living things, the genetic differences within them, the multitude of ecological functions they perform, and much more. It’s what makes the world work.
The general trend of the 3.5 billion years of life on Earth has been the evolution of increased diversity. There have also been some setbacks. However, what humans are doing now could soon rival the effects of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
The continued loss of biodiversity will have serious impacts on the Earth and its inhabitants. The loss of species also leads to the loss of the functions of these species. Outbreaks of pests and diseases will become larger and more frequent as the species that control them disappear.
Food production will be impaired with fewer species to provide pollination services to plants and to perform essential recycling in soils. The productivity of wild ecosystems will also suffer; it will reduce their carbon sequestration, water purification, and other benefits that we often forget to think about.
In general, we will have less stability and more unpredictability. As always, the world’s poorest communities will suffer the most from these impacts.
Unfortunately, years of effort have not yet resulted in sufficient progress to stem the loss of biodiversity. In 2010, the COP-10 meeting in Aichi, Japan produced the targets known as the “Aichi Biodiversity Targets”, which were to be achieved by 2020. None of them was not.
It’s comparable to the fate of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Something clearly went wrong.
Why was the Kunming meeting underestimated? One reason may be that biodiversity loss is not as visible to the average person as pollution or climate change.
North America’s bird population has declined by almost a third over the past 50 years. People may have heard of the “insect apocalypse”. But these crises don’t produce images as stark as hurricane-destroyed homes or giant masses of plastic waste in the ocean.
Even the biological agent behind the lingering pandemic produced no particularly memorable and famous images. However, we must remember that what we cannot see can hurt us.
There may also be an international political angle. Many in the United States blamed Chinese President Xi Jinping last year for not attending the Glasgow COP-26 summit on climate change (although the United States and China later issued a joint statement at the summit ). The current state of US-China relations could interfere with better publicity of a summit currently hosted by China.
However, the good efforts of all countries should be supported. International collaboration is necessary to solve international problems. The Kunming summit has the potential to produce good news on an issue that threatens us all.
Paul da Silva, from Larkspur, is a biologist and founder of the Marin Biodiversity Corridor Initiative.