‘The other COP’: EU must be a champion for nature at UN biodiversity convention

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Global efforts to reverse biodiversity loss have lacked political urgency and commitment, says Ester Asin. [World Meteorological Organization / Flickr]

With biodiversity in drastic decline, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh is a crucial moment. As the international community negotiates a new global biodiversity framework, the EU must become a leader for nature conservation, both globally and at home, argues Ester Asin.

Ester Asin is  the director of the WWF’s European Policy Office.

When the 196 parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – including the EU, represented by Commissioner Vella – came together this week in Egypt to sign the ‘Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration’, this was the easy part.

It is great to see that the paper recognised the need to put biodiversity at the centre of all sectoral policies, and to redouble efforts to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 – even though we all know that this target will likely be missed. I very much hope that this declaration will inject new momentum into the global strive to save nature, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Words are nice, but only concrete and urgent action will make a difference.

Global efforts to reverse biodiversity loss have lacked political urgency and commitment, and as a result, many essential biodiversity targets agreed by the international community in 2011 will not be achieved by the 2020 deadline.

At the CBD COP14 starting tomorrow (not to be confused with the better known climate COP!), parties will meet to start negotiations for a new biodiversity framework, to be finally agreed at the next COP in China in 2020. This year’s meeting must put us on the right track to achieve this.

WWF’s recently published Living Planet Report 2018 was a health check-up for Mother Earth. The results are in, and they leave much to be desired. We have lost a devastating 60% of our planet’s wildlife since 1970 as a result of human activities. It is crystal clear: we are in the midst of a 6th mass extinction.

This threatens not only plants and animals but the foundations of our society and economy. Biodiversity is not just ‘nice to have’, it provides us with basic necessities of life, such as clean air and water, food security and medicines.

60% of living species declined due to human activity, warns WWF

The ways in which humans feed, fuel and finance modern societies is pushing the planet’s natural systems to the brink, threatening the very foundation on which the world economy is based, according to the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018, published on Tuesday (30 October).

The world urgently needs transformational change to address this crisis. In response to the science and for the long-term prosperity (and survival!) of humankind, WWF is calling for a Global Deal for Nature and People, which must reverse nature’s decline by 2030. A strong post-2020 global biodiversity framework – to be agreed in China in 2020 – must be a critical component of this global deal.

Of course, the problem with many international agreements is that they lack legislative teeth, so accountability and implementation mechanisms need to be strengthened.

Furthermore, for this deal to become a reality, strong EU leadership in the negotiations and thereafter is essential. This means that the EU must bring to the table its own strong and ambitious biodiversity strategy for the time after 2020.

If the EU is to be taken seriously as a leader and champion, it has to also walk the talk domestically. It is true that we have some of the most stringent environmental standards and nature conservation laws in the world, but Europe’s nature is still declining.

Our nature legislation (such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, the Water Framework Directive) is strong and ‘fit for purpose’, but implementing these directives on the ground has not been as successful as it should be.

The EU risks missing its own target of halting the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2020. In fact, according to the ‘State of Nature in the EU’ report, only a measly 23% of animal and plant species and 16% of habitat types protected under the Habitats Directive have a “favourable” conservation status. That’s just not good enough!

If implementation is one problem, the lack of policy coherence is another. Our biodiversity is affected by pretty much everything we do, and must thus be addressed through many sectoral policies – from energy to agriculture, from finance to infrastructure development. At the moment, we have a range of EU legislation which actively undermines our biodiversity targets rather than support them.

With the European Commissioners approaching the ends of their terms, it is make or break time for their legacies. What will Commissioner Vella’s legacy be? A partial, fragmented success? Or will he set the scene to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, take actions for policy implementation, and give poor Mother Earth a chance to heal? What a legacy that would be.

With his name on the dotted line of the Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration, the countdown begins. Plenty can be achieved during these last months of the mandate, if only the political will is there.

The science leaves no doubt: The time has come to get serious about biodiversity conservation. It is time to secure a Global Deal for Nature and People in 2020, our livelihoods – and ultimately our species’ survival – depend on it. Mother Earth’s biodiversity clock is ticking. We cannot afford to ignore it any longer.

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