A planet in crisis: on tangible outcomes from biological diversity convention

Tangible outcomes from biological diversity convention are a long time away

Updated - December 20, 2022 11:45 am IST

Published - December 20, 2022 12:20 am IST

A month after the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt, diplomatic retinue went into a contentious huddle again to save the planet — in Montreal, Canada, this time, and as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). While both these conferences can trace their origins to the Rio summit of 1992, the CBD does not get anywhere near the media attention COP commands. There are no world leaders and heads of state making grandiloquent commitments because the CBD largely continues to be framed as an ‘environmentalist’ concern, much like what COP used to be, until the forces of capitalism managed to reimagine the idea of a planet being inexorably slow-cooked in greenhouse gases to one that may yet be saved by renewable energy sources — and at the very least — make some entrepreneurs rich.

Unlike cyclones and melting glaciers that have become visual aids to bring home the climate crisis wrought by invisible gases, biodiversity loss continues to be largely invisible despite its victims being extremely visible. Based on current trends, the UN reckons, an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species, including one in eight of the world’s bird species, face extinction. About 30% of breeds of main farm animal species are currently at high risk of extinction. Forests are home to much of the known terrestrial biodiversity, but about 45% of the earth’s original forests are gone, cleared mostly during the past century. Yet, because much of this extinction is not finely accounted for as the rise in per capita carbon emissions or temperature swings, it fails to evoke the urgency it deserves. In this light, India’s stance, i.e., of not wanting hard targets on proposals such as reducing the use of pesticides, given that their effects on impacting biodiversity are documented, and conserving 30% of land and sea, seems anachronistic particularly when it sees itself as a champion of conservation and living in harmony with nature. While India, adopting a negotiating tack from climate conferences, has argued that different nations have differing levels of responsibility towards biodiversity conservation (which requires richer nations to be more generous funders of global conservation efforts), it is well known that such demands are a dead end unless countries agree to definite targets. What cannot be measured, as the adage goes, cannot be understood or addressed. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CBD, has described the negotiations as one that should result in a “Paris moment for nature”; while this was not quite what happened, countries have agreed on preparing concrete road maps by 2024 and the richer ones, committing $30 billion an annum by 2030. But seeing tangible outcomes is a long time away.

To read this editorial in Tamil, click here.

To read this editorial in Hindi, click here.

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