Range of targets on deforestation, habitats, oceans, plastic pollution adopted a decade ago have all been missed or are heading in wrong direction, UN report warns
The world is set to miss all its targets to safeguard biodiversity and halt the destruction of ecosystems that are critical to slowing climate change, according to an alarming UN report published today by the Convention of Biological Diversity.
A decade ago, countries adopted a series of 20 biodiversity objectives after discussions in Aichi, Japan, marking the start of the UN's decade of biodiversity. The new study, titled Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, serves as a report card on these goals, and finds that none have been met in full, while just six were deemed to be "partially achieved".
As a result, human activity continues to threaten many of the world's species with extinction and natural habitats have continued to vanish, fuelling climate change and undermining long-term food security, the report warns.
"Earth's living systems as a whole are being compromised, and the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity," said Elizabeth Mrema, executive director of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The report reveals the world remains far behind its target to halve loss of natural habitats, including forests. While global deforestation rates have decreased by about a third through past five years compared to pre-2010 levels, fragmentation and degradation of biodiversity-rich ecosystems in the tropics remains high, and wilderness areas and wetlands have continued to disappear and freshwater ecosystems remain critically threatened, it finds.
In the oceans, meanwhile, a target to sustainably manage and harvest all fish and invertebrate stocks has also been missed, and is in fact going backwards, the report states: the proportion of overfished marine stocks has actually increased in the last decade to a third of the total; many non-target species are now also threatened due to unsustainable levels of bycatch; and more than 60 per cent of the world's coral reefs are under threat, damaged by overfishing, coastal development and acidification.
Goals around plastic pollution and excess nutrients are also far off track. Around 260,000 tonnes of plastic particles are estimated to have accumulated in the oceans, while electronics pollution is also highlighted as a key area of concern, fuelled by accelerating consumption rates, according to the report.
Targets to protect 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of marine habitats have not been achieved, although some progress was made towards these goals, with 44 per cent of vital biodiverse areas now under protection, nearly a third more than in 2000, the report finds.
Some progress was also made towards tackling invasive species, with around 200 successful eradications of alien species on islands logged by the report, which also notes a far higher awareness of the importance of biodiversity and its role in tackling the climate crisis than a decade ago.
However, $500bn of harmful subsidies for agriculture, fossil fuels and fishing have not been eliminated, meaning governments are continuing to directly drive environmental degradation, the report states. This figure dwarves financing for actions to safeguard biodiversity, which the report estimates at $78-$91bn per year, far below the hundreds of billions of dollars needed.
"We are still seeing so much more public money invested in things that harm biodiversity than in things that support biodiversity," said David Cooper, lead author of the report and executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Biodiversity.
The report's sobering findings reflect other recent studies highlighting the cataclysmic impact of human activity on the natural world. Earlier this month, a WWF assessment estimated that since 1970 close to 70 per cent of wild animals, birds and fish have been eradicated. A recent RSPB review also called the ten years since the Aichi convention a "lost decade for nature".
Today's UN report does offer some small crumbs of comfort, however, noting that conservation efforts have saved as many as 48 species from extinction in recent decades. It also sketches a vision for a world in which "business as usual" is stopped and serious action taken to stop the assault on the world's natural biodiversity. This envisages ecosystems being restored and conserved, food systems redesigned to enhance productivity, oceans sustainably managed, and cities redesigned to integrate "green infrastructure" and slash their environmental footprint.
Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 is published in advance of the UN Summit on Biodiversity, which will take place in New York on 30 September. This will be followed in May next year when parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will meet to negotiate the targets for this decade. A draft proposal includes provisions to protect 30 per cent of the planet.
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