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Experts urgently warn of need to address loss of planet's biodiversity

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-12-02 11:18

Despite efforts to mitigate biodiversity losses, the extinction of species around the globe continues to accelerate at unprecedented rates, climate experts warned ahead of the largest global gathering of environmental ministers on biodiversity.

"The biggest challenge to biodiversity, of course, is climate change (and, in the ocean, its evil twin, ocean acidification)," Robin Craig, an environmental law professor of at the University of Southern California, told China Daily.

The second part of COP15, or the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), will be held in Montreal (Dec 7-19).

China is the president of COP15, and China's Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu will preside over the talks of the conference, which is themed "Ecological Civilization — Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth".

The conference will see the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which outlines what countries would need to do in the next decade or beyond to achieve CBD's overall vision of "living in harmony with nature" by 2050.

However, various factors have prevented the targets from being met. Problems such as pollution, agricultural expansion, unsustainable hunting, illegal wildlife trade and climate change are causing a fast decline of the natural ecosystem worldwide.

Oceans absorb human emissions of carbon dioxide. But as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the ocean absorbs more CO2 and subsequently becomes more acidic, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ocean acidification could threaten sea lives and alter human health, according to NOAA.

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change, warned that humanity has severely altered three-quarters of the planet's land surface, and 1 million species are threatened with extinction.

The report also noted that past and ongoing declines in biodiversity will undermine countries' achievement of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which all UN member states have pledged to achieve by 2030.

"While climate change has not been the dominant driver of biodiversity loss to date, in most parts of the world, it is projected to become as or more important than the other drivers of change," said Robert Watson, past chair of IPBES, said in 2019.

Watson highlighted the need for government departments around the world to work together, noting that the loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic and security issue as well.

The COP15 is taking place just a few weeks after COP27, the UN's Climate Change Conference. Although climate change is currently getting more attention from global leaders, there is an increasing need for integrated solutions between the two issues, experts said.

"Among other things, climate change complicates efforts to provide species and ecosystems with room to flourish because they are both shifting their ranges and rearranging their interactions as a result of warmer temperatures," Craig said.

It's imperative to get climate change under control and limit the total increase in global average temperatures to as low as possible, "for biodiversity's sake in addition to humans' own self-interest", she said.

Craig said the biggest achievement of the global community in terms of boosting biodiversity is "the many recognitions that preserving habitat is critically important".

"National and international protected areas — especially protected areas that limit human intrusion — give other species places to be," Craig said.

Such protections came through international commitments, as well as national, regional, state and local commitments to establishing and protecting various kinds of parks and preserves, she said.

The CBD was adopted at the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992 and entered into force in 1993. It currently has 196 state members. The United States is the only UN member state that has not yet ratified the agreement.

In 2002, parties of the CBD adopted the 2010 biodiversity target that aimed "to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss".

The goal was not met. In 2010, the parties adopted a 10-year plan that was subdivided into 20 targets known as Aichi Targets. But according to a 2021 assessment by the UN, the international community did not fully achieve any of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets.

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