Top Ten Stories of 2020: Biodiversity Crisis Is Recognized, Movement for #30×30 Is Growing

This year was supposed to be THE big one for biodiversity with the Conference of the Parties for the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity meeting scheduled for the fall in China — then the COVID virus struck and it became clear it had spread to humans from an animal ironically in China. The pandemic tragically put a spotlight on the importance of conserving nature so that we do not experience another global pandemic much less a mass extinction wave, especially when compounded with the destruction being caused by warming across the planet.  We sure did learn the hard way this year that we need a healthy planet in order to survive.

In April, we reported on a study published in Nature that showed that in a high-emissions scenario of more than 4° Celsius of warming by 2100, at least 15% of ecosystems would suffer an event in which more than 20% of their key species hit their temperature limits in the same decade. Healthy biodiversity is important to sustain human life and is also key to fighting the impacts of climate change. But particularly relevant to this current moment is that a loss in biodiversity was linked to the spread of pandemics. The CDC estimated that “3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.”

As people continue to destroy nature the risk of human to animal interaction increases as does the risk that infectious disease passes from animals to humans. It underscores the need for the global community to protect 30% of nature by 2030, a goal that is now more important than ever.  The same is true for controlling climate change.  As Dr. Alex Pigot of University College of London’s Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, explained:

“Keeping global warming below 2°C effectively ‘flattens the curve’ of how this risk to biodiversity will accumulate over the century, providing more time for species and ecosystems to adapt to the changing climate – whether that’s by finding new habitats, changing their behavior, or with the help of human-led conservation efforts.”

In September, the United Nations released another in its series of assessments on meeting global conservation targets, this one was a final report card on whether the world had achieved the 20 global biodiversity targets set in 2010 with a 2020 deadline. “If this were a school and these were tests, the world has flunked,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  The report concluded that governments must scale up national ambitions in order to achieve the next target of 30% of nature protected by 2030 and leaders must bring biodiversity into the mainstream of decision making and factor it into policies across all economic sectors.

This call to action at the United Nations right after its annual General Assembly meeting was the start of a major global effort to finance conserving nature, and it immediately got a huge “deposit” as Ministers from Germany, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Canada, and Norway, as well as business leaders, UN leaders, and major philanthropists, promise to spend billions to safeguard biodiversity.  Dozens of countries by the end of 2020 had committed to conserving 30% of their land and waters by 2030, including U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.  Now there is momentum going into the Biodiversity Convention meeting rescheduled for the fall of 2021 to achieve a global agreement on the ambitious 30×30 goal.  As the new decade begins, so does a serious and concerted effort to save nature, as we now fully appreciate that we must do it in order to save ourselves.  

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