Negotiating for Nature

Concerned over the rate of biodiversity loss, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is calling for a new deal for nature and people. South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Wildlife is being wiped out in an unprecedented rate, and it’s our fault. But a new deal could provide a new pathway forward.

Concerned over the rate of biodiversity loss, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is calling for a new deal for nature and people in order to accelerate and integrate action between three core areas: biodiversity, land degradation, and climate change.

“The trends are shocking. We are facing a decline which is unprecedented and its accelerating,” WWF’s Director General Marco Lambertini told IPS.

“This is a global issue. Almost no country is completely exempt,” he added.

And it’s not just the iconic species like pandas, elephants, and tigers, he noted.

According the WWF’s recent Living Planet report, populations of vertebrate species have declined by 60 percent around the world in just 40 years.

Freshwater species alone faced a decline of over 80 percent.

Such population declines were especially prominent in South and Central America, where there is 89 percent less wildlife than in 1970.

Among the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are directly linked to human activities, namely land conversion and overexploitation.

Over 40 percent of the world’s land has been converted or set aside for agriculture alone.

The Amazon, which is home to over 10 percent of the world’s species, has seen deforestation and habitat conversion to make way for agricultural activities such as cattle ranching and soy cultivation.

Though there has been some efforts to halt and reverse such harmful activities, 20 percent of the Amazon disappeared in just 50 years.

In Indonesia, primates are facing a heightened risk of extinction as forests are destroyed to produce palm oil.

“Food production is the single most important driver of wild habitat loss…very few people realise the connection between the food that they eat and the impact it is having on wildlife and wild habitats in the world,” Lambertini said.

But it doesn’t stop there.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), unsustainable land management, which encompasses many modern crop and livestock practices, is causing soil and land degradation thus contributing to both desertification and further biodiversity loss.

“With our current trends in production, urbanisation, and environmental degradation, we are losing and wasting too much land,” said UNCCD’s Executive Secretary Monique Barbut in the group’s Global Land Outlook report.

“We are losing our connection with the earth. We are losing too quickly the water, soil, and biodiversity that support all life,” she added.

Lambertini echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “There’s not going to be a prosperous, healthy, happy, just future for us in a degraded planet.”

Finding Common Ground

UNCCD is one of three conventions that were established during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Its sister conventions include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Though significant as separate frameworks, Lambertini highlighted the need for more integration between the three conventions as the three issues are interconnected.

“We are calling for a new deal for nature…that really recognises those interdependencies and that they need to be integrated—land degradation, climate change, and nature conservation,” he said.

The Executive Secretaries of the three conventions also recognised the intersectionality of the three issues during the U.N. climate change conference in 2017, calling for the establishment of a project preparation facility.

The facility would help promote an coordinated action towards the convention’s common issues and finance large-scale multi-disciplinary projects.

However, little has been mentioned of it since.

Similar to the Paris climate accord, the proposed “new deal for nature and people” would ramp up the international community’s efforts through ambitious goals and targets to halt biodiversity loss and protect and restore nature.

Unlike the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the end date of the biodiversity-related targets under the SDGs is in 2020 and it is expected that many countries will not come close to reaching the targets given current trends.

The new deal for nature would therefore be a post-2020 framework, helping governments to keep up, if not raise, their efforts.

A recent U.N. Biodiversity Conference agreed to begin a preparatory process, marking a first step towards a new framework. However, WWF noted that ambition was weak.

“The world needs to wake up to the risks of biodiversity loss. All stakeholders; business, government and people, need to act now if we are to have any hope of creating a sustainable future for all and a New Deal for Nature and People in 2020,” Lambertini said.

“For this to happen, we need a cohesive vision and strong political will – something [Conference of the Parties 14] has unfortunately lacked,” he added.

The Value of Nature

The Living Planet Index calculated that nature provides services worth $125 trillion annually while also providing us with fresh air, clean water, food, and medicine.

Wildlife play an essential role, and can even help restore and conserve land.

“We often forget that these creatures are fundamental to maintaining ecosystems like forests, oceans, wetlands, grasslands and make services that are fundamental to us,” Lambertini told IPS.

“There is a huge link between biodiversity and their ecosystems…and our fight against climate change,” he added.

For instance, approximately 87 percent of all flowering plant species are pollinated by animals, and crops that are partially pollinated by animals account for 35 percent of global food production.

Primates also help disperse seeds and pollen, helping maintain tropical rainforests which are play a crucial role in global rainfall patterns and carbon emissions reduction.

During the recent U.N. climate change conference in Poland, many looked to natural climate solutions including forests which help cut emissions by up to 30 percent.

WWF is urging all stakeholders to come together to deliver on a comprehensive framework to help protect the environment by the next U.N. biodiversity conference set to take place in China in 2020.

“It’s time to stop taking nature for granted—we are depending on nature more than nature depends on us,” Lambertini said.

“Don’t leave nature and environmental conservation and climate change as an afterthought, they have to be driving the thinking and the planning at the policy level as much as the economic level,” he concluded.

Q&A: Many African Countries Already Live the Future of 2°C Warmer

Gernot Laganda, Chief of the Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programmes at the World Food Programme says that because of climate change the number of natural disasters in the world have doubled since 1990. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
KATOWICE, Poland, Dec 14 2018 (IPS)

As the United Nations climate conference nears an end, all eyes are on the negotiators  who have been working day and night for the past two weeks to come up with a Rulebook for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

However, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), climate change is also a humanitarian issue.

According to the humanitarian organisation, natural disasters such as droughts, storms and floods, have doubled since the 1990s.

“So nowadays there are so many people who require food assistance and other humanitarian aid after disasters than it was a few decades ago,” Gernot Laganda, Chief of the Climate and Disaster Risk Reduction Programmes at WFP, tells IPS at the sidelines of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) in Kotowice, Poland.

“We are also concerned because with humanitarian aid, we cannot run fast enough as the problem of hunger in the world is running away from us,” Laganda says.

According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, the number of hungry people increased to over 820 million in 2017 from approximately 804 million in 2016. And Laganda says the ‘trend is on the rise”.

“When we look into a future of 2 degrees Celsius warmer world, it means we will have over a billion people who are at risk of hunger and food security,” he says. Excepts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): How is climate change impacting on food security?

Gernot Laganda (GL): Climate change affects food security in two principle ways. First, there is the whole question around agriculture from production of crops, to the storage to the transport to the market. Climate change can affect each of these stages.

The other one is about extreme events that keep throwing people back into poverty. Each year, 28 million people fall back into poverty because of extreme weather events. That means no matter how much development progress we are making to achieve zero hunger by 2030, every year we slide back, and that is a concern.

IPS: Will women’s ownership of land be of good value especially for climate adaptation?

GL: Having ownership of land certainly increases sustainability of agriculture production because people look after their land. In many cases, development projects fail also because land ownership and who has the right to use the land for how long has not been considered. So it is a big factor in development.

Of course when you mention the issue of ownership of land, then the whole issue of gender comes in, in various ways. On one side, there is a discussion about women being vulnerable in general. But we see it in slightly a different way.  We see it as women being agents of change in many countries and in many communities, so when you want to invest in a sustainable manner, it is a very good idea to have women saving groups. They have very good experiences in building risk reserves. And whenever there are little problems for example when the rains come late, it becomes very efficient to go through such crises. But when it comes to catastrophic shocks, we look more at insurance based models.

IPS: Do you see this COP solving some of the climate problems in relation to food security?

GL: This COP is primarily about implementing the Paris agreement and maintaining the global average of temperature increases well below two degrees Celsius. I think in all the discussions about temperature ranges we tend to forget that many countries, especially in Africa, are already experiencing two degrees Celsius of temperature increase. So the reality in these countries look like what we are still discussing here. Indeed, many African countries already live the future that we are collectively still trying to avoid.

IPS: How has climate change contributed in terms of displacing families?

GL: Statistics from the last 10 years tell us that on average 22 million people are driven from their homes every year because of climate extremes. Migration is actually a traditional adaptation mechanism because people move to other places in search of greener pastures, job opportunities and so on. But we are talking about forced displacement due to climate related disasters. Climate related events can also aggravate conflicts at local levels between farmers and herders for example, or it can still happen between countries especially where we have large international river basins.

IPS: What does the latest  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report mean to Africa in terms of food security?

GL: All countries are affected by climate change but agrarian countries feel it the most. In Africa, many countries have a huge percentage of their GDP coming from agriculture. That makes such economies very vulnerable because agriculture is about climate sensitive resources such as water, crops, fish-stock, livestock among others. All poor countries that heavily depend on natural resources are the most impacted.

IPS: What are your expectations for COP24?

GL: Everybody’s expectation is that we will have a Rulebook by the end of the COP. But there is also a recognition that this is not an easy task because for one it is difficult enough to agree on what we want to do. But [the Rulebook] is about how we are going to hold ourselves accountable.

In the Rulebook, I expect to see a regime by which countries can track and report on the degrees of their progress against their self set targets or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

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