Crunch talks later this year will determine whether we can reduce our impact on Earth’s ecosystems – and there are positive signs, says the diplomat in charge of the process

Environment



17 February 2021

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Graham Lawton: What do we know about when the Convention for Biological Diversity talks are going to happen in Kunming?

Elizabeth Mrema: We’re still in consultations with our hosts, China. The dates that had been announced were the last two weeks of May, but looking at how the situation is, May is tomorrow!

But not just that: before our conference, we have subsidiary bodies that need to meet to negotiate and prepare for all the decisions that will be taken. These important discussions will guide the world for the next 10 years. We cannot negotiate virtually, we need to meet in person.

This is a crunch year all round, with other key negotiations taking place and the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

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Yes, 2021 is the super year for all three Rio conventions: biological diversity, climate change and land degradation. The Decade on Ecosystem Restoration brings them all together. With ecological restoration, you are talking of an impact on land degradation but also on biodiversity, also on climate. This decade will be the decade of convergence of the conventions. There is enormous potential for synergies.

What is the state of global biodiversity?

The science is very clear. In terms of species loss, land degradation, deforestation, habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive alien species, impacts of chemicals, scientists are giving us a consistent message: we have undermined nature. And the solutions are to go back to nature.

The biodiversity targets from the 2010 Aichi Convention on Biological Diversity were all missed. How will the new ones be different?

I know, we are all worried. If Aichi has failed, what makes us think that the new framework will be better? But we learned lessons. We failed the targets because we assumed implementation was the role of governments. We missed Indigenous people, local communities, youth, women. We missed the private sector – finance, business, industry. The World Economic Forum recently found that half of global GDP depends on nature. The private sector would not want to lose this, and so it is coming on board. This was not the case in the last 10 years.

Has the pandemic injected urgency into proceedings?

Covid clearly demonstrated, indisputably, how human health depends on nature. And if it depends on nature, we need to protect it, and not to interfere with wild spaces and suffer what the whole world is suffering now. Human health will take a centre stage in the new framework, because now it is also seen as a framework that will provide solutions to preventing and avoiding future pandemics.

Will the change in US president make a difference?

I’m really crossing fingers. The initial signs seem positive, because the incoming administration is already talking to us. So we hope. The Convention on Biological Diversity is a universal agreement of 196 parties and we are missing only two. One is the US; the other is Vatican City.

It has been suggested that the United Nations ought to set up a body with overarching responsibility for nature, in the same way that we have ones for security, trade, food and health. Do you agree?

Personally, I will be cautious. The challenges in front of us are just too enormous and too many. The moment we set up new bodies, we take a step back for two or three years. I don’t think we lack bodies. What we are lacking is enforcement and implementation. Time will not wait for us.

I sense genuine optimism here.

We have to be optimistic! If we are not positive, we will continue to suffer. We have 10 years to make a difference.

Elizabeth Mrema is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, based in Montreal, Canada

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