9 May 2019
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Biodiversity Update
UN Photo/Eva Fendiaspara
story highlights

The Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Summary for Policy Makers was released during the seventh session of the Plenary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

The International Institute for Environment and Development published several briefs on biodiversity and its linkages to human development.

An issue brief by IDDRI also discusses causes of biodiversity loss and how it can be stopped.

The European Commission is organizing a regional meeting, ‘Conference on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: a Common Agenda to 2020 and Beyond’.

The seventh session of the Plenary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES 7) convened last week in Paris, France, bringing significant global attention to biodiversity and ecosystem services. This SDG Knowledge Weekly brief compiles and collates reports and briefs released around the session and some of the early responses to the IPBES Global Assessment that has generated so much concern.

At IPBES 7, governments adopted the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and a Rolling Work Programme up to 2030. An SDG Knowledge Hub story highlights that the report is “the first intergovernmental assessment of the state of global biodiversity and the first comprehensive assessment since the release of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005.” Objectives of the Work Programme include assessing knowledge on the importance of biodiversity in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, and business impact and dependence on biodiversity’s and nature’s contributions to people. IISD Reporting Services’ full coverage of IPBES 7 is available here.

On the Assessment itself, an advance unedited version of the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) cites an eye-opening statistic that over one million species are currently threatened with extinction unless action is taken to address the drivers of biodiversity loss. Other key messages highlight that drivers of change have accelerated over the past 50 years, and that existing goals for conserving and sustainably using nature cannot be met at current trajectories. The SPM also rates progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, the majority of which is “poor” or “moderate.” An appendix charts out the degrees of confidence used to back the key findings and messages, based on the level of agreement, and quantity and quality of evidence. An SDG Knowledge Hub summary of the SPM is here. An IPBES press release citing key statistics and findings is here. The full assessment, based on a review of 15,000+ scientific and government sources over three years, is due to be released this summer.

Coverage by the New York Times flags that, although the assessment is “not the first to paint a grim portrait of Earth’s ecosystems,” it goes further, detailing the close connections between human well-being and nature’s well-being. An op-ed in The Guardian by IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson declares that humans are “undermining the entire natural infrastructure on which our modern world depends.” He warns that governments and business are “nowhere close to doing enough,” although the UK Parliament’s endorsement of a motion to declare formal climate and environment emergency is a start.

Nature and climate change are the twin emergencies threatening humanity today.

Responding to the assessment, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) describes the destruction of nature and climate change as “the twin emergencies threatening humanity today.” It notes that humanity is increasingly dependent on biodiversity, and calls on leaders to end subsidies for fossil fuels, industrial fishing and agriculture. IIED also released several knowledge products on the importance of biodiversity.

IIED’s Dilys Roe expands the issue in a post on the organization’s blog, noting that biodiversity goes beyond the environmental realm, also affecting development organizations. To dispel a common assumption among development actors – that biodiversity is tangential to their work – Roe outlines how reduced biodiversity influences human development: fewer wild foods; reduced nutritional security; poorer pollination; less productive and resilient agricultural systems; reduced access to traditional medicines and lost opportunities for drug development; and gender-specific labor burdens (e.g. women walking longer distances to collect water).

An IIED policy brief expands on those impacts to map the implications of biodiversity loss to various human development priorities. The brief points out that regions with high biodiversity loss are home to many of the world’s poorest and vulnerable people, and such loss stymies SDG achievement in those locations. To protect recent development gains from the impacts of biodiversity loss, the authors call on development professionals to: “nature-proof” investments; invest in biodiversity and nature-based solutions to development; invest in conservation efforts that empower the poor; and invest in areas that are important to biodiversity even if they are “uncharismatic,” such as pollinators and soil microbes.

IIED also published a full-length issue paper and evidence review highlighting biodiversity as a development issue. In addition to expanding on biodiversity’s connections to development and the other issues noted in the IIED knowledge products described above, the paper defines what biodiversity is and is not: it is not to be confused with wildlife, natural capital or ecosystem services, for example. The paper outlines how biodiversity relates to, supports or benefits from these other concepts to support development, and calls for “a new deal for nature and people,” a.k.a. “making development sustainable again.”

An issue brief by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) discusses how the causes of biodiversity loss can be stopped. From the key points of the Global Assessment Report, IDDRI highlights that: 1) biodiversity collapse on continents is primarily due to land-use changes related to agriculture (particularly those resulting from the increased consumption of animal products); and 2) in oceans, concomitant losses are due to overfishing. The authors point to upcoming negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) post-2020 framework, which, they note, could address issues relating to food and agriculture, as well as World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on fishery subsidies.

A public consultation is getting underway to evaluate the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. Following commitments made at the CBD’s tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2010, the Strategy was adopted in 2011. A European Commission-organized conference in Brussels, Belgium later this month will launch the public consultation and final evaluation of the strategy.

Looking ahead, A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network (ALTER-Net) and EKLIPSE will convene their 2019 biennial conference on the theme, ‘The EU Biodiversity Strategy Beyond 2020,’ from 17-19 June 2019, in Ghent, Belgium.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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