Global efforts to address the steep, ongoing loss of biodiversity through a series of specified targets have failed, according to a dire assessment released by the United Nations today. The 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were established under the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity at a conference in Japan in 2010. Their aim was to protect the world’s imperiled flora and fauna by 2020.
Without such intervention, according to the U.N., roughly one million species could disappear within several decades, widening what scientists have coined the Holocene extinction: the planet’s sixth mass extinction event, driven by human activity. Ultimately, 170 countries and regions agreed to the targets and to create their own national conservation strategies that mirrored or related to the Aichi goals. But according to the just released fifth edition of the U.N.’s Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), the international community as a whole has failed to meet even a single biodiversity target by the deadline, and no nation has successfully met all 20 within its own borders.
Many human activities can shrink biodiversity, including deforestation, pollution and the introduction of invasive species. The Aichi goals to counter losses were equally diverse. But experts say the participating countries have failed, in large part, because they have struggled to address conservation while focusing on their economies and rising populations.
The failure to halt biodiversity loss draws stark parallels with nations’ lack of political will to keep global warming below an increase of two degrees Celsius, as was pledged in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The U.S. will officially exit that agreement on November 4, and the country has never ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. And although China has made great strides in moving away from fossil fuels, its $6-trillion development project, the Belt and Road Initiative, poses serious risk to the flora and fauna inside and outside its borders. In light of such opposing interests, David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity and an authorof the new GBO, says the outcomes of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are, unfortunately, “in line with what we expected,” particularly when considering the fourth GBO, released in 2014, which warned of insufficient progress.
“Frankly, we lost some time at the start of the decade as countries developed their own national targets,” Cooper says. By mid-decade, countries were finally making gains but not enough to meet the deadline. “We need to think about what we can do to help countries get a faster start and build on the momentum we have now,” Cooper adds.
He also blames perverse incentives. Although many nations successfully mobilized financial resources to aid biodiversity conservation, the funds were undermined by factors such as subsidies supporting fossil fuels and overfishing, Cooper says. “Progress has been made, but it has been insufficient to address the underlying drivers of [biodiversity] loss: climate change and exploitation, which are driven by broader consumption patterns,” he adds. For example, subsidies linked to the destruction of rain forests in Brazil and Indonesia are far greater than the amount spent on reforestation efforts.
Although countries did not meet the Aichi goals outright, many made decent headway. According to the fifth GBO, only 11 percent of national targets saw no significant progress. Six targets were partially achieved by the 2020 deadline. Target 11, which pushed countries to protect 17 percent of surface and subsurface water and inland water areas, as well as 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, received significant attention and arguably resulted in the most concrete changes. In terms of surface area alone, Target 11 will likely be reached globally by the end of the year, with nearly 10 percent of countries surpassing their goal. Yet critics say many newly established protected areas do not focus on the most species-rich regions. Rather they were implemented wherever it was easiest for governments to cordon off land or water.
The new GBO noted other progress as well. “Indonesia has clamped down on illegal and unreported fishing, which has generated a lot of improvement in fish stocks in its water,” Cooper says. But the steps that that have been achieved are still not enough to stem the tide of biodiversity loss. Between 1970 and 2016, the average size of wildlife populations declined by an astounding 68 percent, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s 2020 Living Planet Report. If the trajectory remains unchanged, biodiversity will continue to decline until 2050 and beyond because of unsustainable production and consumption of natural resources, population growth and other ongoing trends.
Originally published by Scientific American