Bonus Biodiversity Interview: Stephenne Harding, National Geographic Society

L-R: Stephenne Harding, National Geographic Society; Catalina Santamaria, Special Advisor to the CBD Executive Secretary; and Alice Jay, National Geographic Society                Photo: IISD/ENB

Stephenne Harding is the Senior Director of the Campaign for Nature at the National Geographic Society and is also part of a coalition of environmental groups working to conserve at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.  She spoke to ODP from a key meeting of the United Nations in Kenya happening this week.

ODP:  What is the Convention on Biodiversity and why is there a meeting about it this week in Kenya?

SH:  Hello and greetings from Nairobi. The Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD as it is called, is where the world comes together to conserve nature, species and the natural systems we all depend on. This meeting in Nairobi kicks off a year-long process to develop a ten-year, post-2020, global biodiversity framework that will be adopted at the conference of parties meeting in China in October 2020.

ODP:  This meeting follows a major UN report on biodiversity that warned of the possible extinction of 1 million species, and opens as fires rage across the Amazon. Reading the room, do you think attitudes are changing among the countries now that they are aware of the urgency and importance of this moment?

SH: Yes. The devastating fires in the Amazon are on the minds of everyone here in Nairobi, and just adds to the sense of urgency when it comes to preserving the world’s biodiversity on land and in the ocean. The recent IPBES and IPCC reports certainly support the argument that the status quo is no longer an option. We need transformative change if we are to save our natural world, and ultimately ourselves.

ODP:  You are part of an alliance calling for the protection of at least 30 percent of the oceans. What has been the response thus far from country delegates and how hopeful are you of success?

SH:  Yes, the 30×30 Ocean Alliance currently includes National Geographic Society, Campaign for Nature, Conservation International, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Oceans5, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. We have come together around the goal to protect or conserve at least 30 percent of the ocean through highly and fully protected marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures that demonstrate comparable benefits for biodiversity.

We hear and see growing support for the creation of large networks of ocean protected areas—much as we have done on land—that protect or conserve critical habitats, reduce and manage pressure from fishing and other activities, give species and habitats a chance to recover, and ultimately provide the best opportunity for healthier ocean ecosystems to maintain their essential functions.

ODP:  Indigenous Peoples have sustainably managed ocean environments for thousands of years and there is increasing awareness that Indigenous peoples and local communities should have a leadership role in ensuring continued marine biodiversity. Does the 30×30 Ocean Alliance believe that partnering with indigenous peoples and local communities is important to their work advocating for greater ocean protection?

SH:  Indigenous peoples and local communities must be central and ongoing partners in the development and the implementation of any global deal on biodiversity. The recent IPBES report further demonstrated that indigenous peoples and local communities play a crucial role in safeguarding biodiversity, and their priorities, rights, and goals must be fully integrated into CBD’s work.

ODP:  Protection of endangered species in the world’s oceans had HUGE wins at CITES this week for sharks and other marine species. Do you see those carrying over to the CBD Conference of the Parties?

SH:  Whether it’s here in Nairobi, at the UN negotiations toward a high seas treaty, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), World Trade Organization discussions on ending harmful fishing subsidies, the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit, the upcoming climate COP in Chile, or many other venues, the global community is connecting the dots between the health of the ocean and the health of the planet.

And this isn’t just an issue for coastal nations. Every one of us benefits from a healthy ocean. Getting to a 30 percent target requires all hands on deck. We are encouraged, yet a lot of hard work remains.

Thanks, Stephenne, and keep us posted as you build toward the Conference of the Parties next year.  

Members of Civil Society at the CBD Meeting         Photo: IISD/ENB

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