AFTER a two-year Covid-related delay, negotiators from more than 190 countries are assembling in Montreal, Canada, today (until Dec 19) to finalise a global strategy to stem the tide of biodiversity loss.

With the right level of ambition, the global strategy, known as the Global Biodiversity Framework, could become the biodiversity equivalent of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Given the complexity and far-reaching nature of the global biodiversity crisis, the agreement reached at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) must show ambition on a wide range of issues, including tackling the drivers of biodiversity loss.

It must also contain a strong implementation mechanism that ensures immediate action and a system to increase action throughout the decade.

We cannot have a repeat of the failure of the Aichi biodiversity targets. Ultimately, the agreement needs to clearly put the world on a path to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, achieving a nature-positive world this decade.

We are confronting a catastrophic loss of one million species, putting humanity’s safe future at risk. China, which is holding the presidency of this meeting, has chosen not to invite heads of state to COP15, but ministers will be on hand towards the end.

I believe success at COP15 requires a minimum of the following:

ADVANCING the rights and leadership of indigenous peoples and local communities. This framework must have as a core thread throughout full respect for the rights, experiences and contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities as essential stewards of biodiversity;

A GLOBAL target to protect and conserve at least 30 per cent of the world’s lands, inland waters and oceans by 2030 — the “30 x 30” target. Ensure that this protection is effectively enforced and managed, with priority given to ecologically representative areas most important for biodiversity.

Science tells us that 30 per cent is the minimum area required to arrest the habitat loss and overexploitation responsible for much of the problem.

Additionally, a recently released IPCC report underlined that the protection of 30 per cent of the planet is urgently needed to achieve climate goals, as well as biodiversity and other goals. The target has been endorsed by more than 114 countries, the majority of them developing countries and emerging economies;

INCREASING funding to meet biodiversity targets. The agreement must result in significantly increased funding for biodiversity, as well as an end to subsidising nature’s destruction, with subsidies that harm nature being redirected to fund its protection and restoration. Ideas include debt forgiveness and debt for nature swaps for developing countries.

The 30 x 30 target has gained support within Asean. The Philippines recently adopted the 30 x 30 target and has joined the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People to advocate for it.

Thailand has also recently endorsed the 30 x 30 target and intends to join the HAC, which comprises Cambodia, Japan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives.

A public opinion poll conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines revealed resounding support for the global 30 x 30 goal, with 96 per cent respondents in Malaysia, 98 per cent in Indonesia and 95 per cent in the Philippines supporting the target.

A recent report from the Academy of Sciences Malaysia estimated that Southeast Asia is home to nature and biodiversity that pumps US$2.19 trillion into the regional economy every year, and that this figure could be higher if governments further prioritise conservation and restoration.

At the close of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Second Asia Parks Congress in Sabah, the 1,200 participants from government, civil society, indigenous groups conservation groups, as well as academia, issued a stark call to support 30 x 30 as a key priority to help protect biodiversity in the region.

I urge Malaysia and other governments in Asean to support the 30 x 30 target and work to ensure it is agreed to at COP15.

The Montreal meeting represents a critical moment for all lives on our planet. It’s my sincere hope that all countries listen to what we in the scientific community have been saying for years: act now with urgency and ambition if we are to reverse the alarming global decline of nature.

Success at COP15 will depend on whether all countries agree to the 30 x 30 target, commit to an ambitious package for financing implementation and embrace a rights-based approach to conserving biodiversity, recognising the critical role that indigenous peoples and local communities play as stewards of nature.

This article first appeared in the New Straits Times on 7 December 2022 

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