International Day of Biodiversity 2020: pandemic calls for nature conservation

A comment by Prof Dr Henrique Pereira

Leipzig, Halle. 2020 was declared a political “super year” for nature conservation. In October, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) should have set the course for international biodiversity policies for the next 10 to 30 years. The corona pandemic has pressed the pause button also in this so-called post-2020 process. COP-15 has been postponed until further notice. However, the pandemic also highlights the important role natural ecosystems play for human health – as a source of pathogens, but also as part of the solution. This is what Prof Dr Henrique Miguel Pereira stresses at this year’s International Day of Biodiversity on 22 May themed “Our solutions are in nature”. Pereira is head of the research group Biodiversity and Nature Conservation at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and co-chair of the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON). He is involved in several forums with policy makers, including the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the CBD.

“This year marks the end of the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. The setting stage for this happened in 2010, when two hundred countries met in the city of Aichi (Japan), under the auspices of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). Back then, the countries decided to achieve a set of 20 so called Aichi-Targets to reduce biodiversity loss by 2020. Recently, the global assessment of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) showed that the efforts made by the countries during the last decade were insufficient to meet most of the Aichi Targets. Therefore, 2020 was expected to be the year when a new set of ambitious targets would be agreed by the countries for the next decade, which has already been designated as the UN Decade on Restoration.

Better biodiversity monitoring and protection can help prevent further pandemics

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt and also brings a slowdown to the development of the new biodiversity targets. In some ways, it is fitting that 2020 is marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. This corona virus had bats as original hosts, and may have reached humans through wet markets in China where wildlife is sold, and sometimes, illegally traded. Human destruction of forest habitats and intrusion of human populations in nature have been increasing the likelihood of emergence of new infectious diseases, which in a globalised world can easily lead to pandemics. Better protection of native habitats in the most biodiverse regions of the world and better monitoring of biodiversity and its pathogens can help prevent further pandemics.

Social lockdown allows more space for nature – a glimpse of what could be achieved by rewilding our ecosystems

For a moment, the COVID-19 pandemic has also shown us what happens when humans step back and allow more space for nature. All over the world, people are reporting how wildlife is coming back to cities and other human-dominated ecosystems, from sea turtles on the beaches of Thailand to deer roaming European urban areas. We got a glimpse of what could be achieved by rewilding our ecosystems. I hope that we will keep this in mind as we return to normal life and plan the restoration decade.

2020 is not a lost year for the protection of our livelihood

Despite COVID-19, 2020 will continue to be a key year for biodiversity. Maybe now even more. The EU Commission has just launched a new biodiversity strategy today, a commitment under the European Green Deal to take a leading role in the transition to a more sustainable world. The negotiations for the new global targets for 2030 are well underway in the Open Ended Working Group of the CBD. Parties to the CBD should meet early in 2021 to approve these new set of targets under the post-2020 Framework. And in July, the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) will host its quadrennial meeting, this time dedicated to Biodiversity Monitoring in the post-2020 Framework. Hopefully, 2020 will put the world on a trajectory to meet the CBD vision of living in harmony with nature. Let this be a reason to celebrate the International Day of Biodiversity 2020.”

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