Conservation of Earth’s biodiversity must go hand in hand with efforts to combat climate change

CHANSON CHEN / CHINA DAILY

Over 30 years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio, world leaders agreed on the Convention on Biological Diversity alongside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This reflects the emerging global consensus that conserving Earth’s natural ecosystems must go hand in hand with saving humanity from the scourge of climate change. These two elements are closely linked. Recognition of this led to the beginning of the holistic approach taken to approaching the sustainability agenda.

Since then, intensive international efforts have been made, culminating in the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement as well as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed in 2015 as Sustainable Development Goals. But all of these efforts have failed to stop the worsening reality. The crisis of unsustainability has not been alleviated but is accelerating. Our demands on nature far exceed its ability to provide the ecological goods and services we all rely on.

Natural assets are limited, but we use them as if they were endless. The growth of human prosperity has come at a devastating cost to nature. Biodiversity is now declining much faster than at any time in human history. Its extinction rates are alarming. Our standard of living is already estimated at 1.7 planets.

What didn’t go well? We the peoples of the world have collectively failed at all levels, national governments, international organizations and individuals. This is not only a market failure, but also a serious governance failure. Most governments compound the problem by subsidizing unsustainable activities that harness nature rather than protect it. We do not have credible institutional arrangements to protect global commons such as oceans or tropical forests, which are the lungs of humanity. It is also an individual failure for all of us, as excessive and unnecessary drinking behavior worsens environmental degradation.

May 22 was International Biodiversity Day, celebrated under the slogan “We ‘are part of the #ForNature solution.” This slogan builds on last year’s slogan, “Our solutions are in nature”. These slogans are a stark reminder of the need to make nature the object of human exploitation the catalyst for sustainable solutions, and to transform human behavior from consumer abusers of nature into an agent of change respectful of nature. Biodiversity enables nature to remain productive, adaptable and resilient. It is also vital Conversely, biodiversity loss poses serious risks to human well-being and livelihoods. The novel coronavirus epidemic is one example striking of those risks that threaten human health.

Knowledge gaps still exist. But scientific assessments overwhelmingly support the need for comprehensive and coordinated policy responses that address the broader global challenges in protecting Earth’s ecosystems. Biodiversity and healthy ecosystems not only support a range of socio-economic activities, but also have an impact on the quality of human life, including health and the sustainable use of key resources such as water, air and energy. Integrating biodiversity and ecosystems into various socio-economic activities will allow us to capture two birds with one stone, halting biodiversity loss and mitigating the risks of climate change.

For this, nature must enter into socio-economic decision-making in the same way as physical capital and human capital. This requires changing our measures of socio-economic performance. Conventional GDP does not take into account the depreciation of assets, including the natural environment. The introduction of natural capital into the systems of national accounts would be a crucial step in making our calculation of wealth more relevant. Frameworks for accounting for natural capital are at different stages of development. Standardization of data and modeling, as well as technical support, would facilitate improved greener decision making around the world. A pilot project on the gross product of the ecosystem was recently carried out in China.

These tasks of integrating and measuring biodiversity and ecosystem assets are daunting. They demand that all stakeholders in the public and private sectors act together and in a coherent manner. This cannot be done by one government or one organization, however powerful or resourceful. Unfortunately, the need for a coordinated global response is hampered by global political dynamics. The resulting global governance deficit weakens the international response as the reality worsens at an alarming rate.

A persistent challenge is how to translate common but differentiated responsibility into an actionable standard for closing the financial gap of developing countries in the execution of climate adaptation and sustainable development programs. The normative efforts are aggravated by the two cleavages that prevail in the international community in terms of wealth (North vs South) and value (West vs old East). The second divide was expected to dissipate with the end of the Cold War, but it does not. In many areas, this poses more serious obstacles than the first divide in bridging the governance gap. The general political climate does not appear favorable, as tensions between the United States and China show no sign of easing.

There is not much time left to conserve nature and act. The point of no return may strike us soon. Now is the time for the major players, especially the United States and China, to seriously engage with each other to identify and build on common ground. They can start from high stakes and low difference areas. To these criteria, there is no other agenda that is more appropriate and urgent than the prevention of climate Armageddon. Dialogue must begin bilaterally. If this is politically difficult at an initial stage, multilateral fora can be used, such as the G20 and the United Nations. At the 15th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP 15) and the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 26), to be held this year in China and the United Kingdom respectively, opportunities will arise in due course. opportune time to set an ambitious new direction for the future we all want. If properly seized, these opportunities can be used to build mutual understanding and working trust.

The future for us and our descendants is at stake. We all need to change. No other option is possible, because we do not have a planet B.

The author is the former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the High Representative for Disarmament. He is now Chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Future Consensus Institute (Yeosijae) and a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO). The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. Opinions do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.



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