Some thoughts on ecology, evolution and economics

A peace treaty with Nature?

Austrian News

On December 20, 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was agreed to by 196 countries. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, called it “a peace pact with nature”. As we have discussed elsewhere on this blog, biodiversity is the variety of life around us and an important key to our happiness. I would not go as far as to argue that biodiversity is essential for human survival but it woud be foolish to discount all the services that wild plants and animals provide us free of charge.

The main improvements from a similar set of goals in 2010 is the marked increase in ambition and the willingness of developed countries to pay for conservation. Developping countries are right to suspect that this is merely virtue signalling by the more affluent parts of the world , valuing tigers and orchids in a way that Europeans once valued tulip bulbs. But the agreement makes some serious commitments. A key feature will see $200 B in funds spent on conservation in developing countries every year by 2030. For context, this amount is greater than that currently transferred as economic assistance to developing countries. The headline phrase from the framework is to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” by 2050. Accomplishing this would change the quality of life of people born today, allowing them richer opportunities, sights, smells and inspiration.

Getting to this new, more diverse, future involves 23 targets to be met in the next 7 years. Hard to leave any of these out but in particular they include:

  • Bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance close to zero (#1)
  • Begin restoration in at least 30% of degraded lands and ecosystems (#2)
  • Protect 30% of land and coastal water (#3)
  • Reduce establishment rate of invasive species by 50% (#6)
  • Reduce the risk from fertilizers and pesticides by at least 50% (#7)
  • Areas of agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry show substantial increases in biodiversity friendly practices (#10)
  • Share the wealth generated from genes and genetic information found in developing countries or in the territories of indigenous people (#13)
  • Hold large and transnational companies to account for the risks to biodiversity that they undertake (#15)
  • Halve global food waste (#16)
  • Reduce incentives that are harmful to biodiversity by $500 Billion/year (#18) and increase biodiversity aid by $30 Billion/year (#19)
  • Enhance capacity (#20), information (#21) and inclusive decision-making(#22), especially for less priveleged people
  • All women and girls have equal opportunity and capacity to contribute to this work (#23)

All these percentages and dollar values will take some measurement if we are to be sure that “halt and reverse” is more than a slogan. A key part of the framework is its monitoring plan. This is important for a concept like biodiversity that is so difficult to put our finger on. The key measure of success will be the Red List Index , whch assesses if species are at greater or lesser risk of going extinct. Right now the measure shows a gradual decline (greater risk), mostly because of the severe risk that our coral reefs are under. Another measure, the Biodiversity Habitat Index, looks at changes in satellite images and links that to known favourite hang outs for multiple species. Despite new language in the framework about the importance of genetic diversity, there are few suggested measures for this kind of variety in life’s riotous presence on earth. As with all peace treaties, this one will succeed if it begins to build trust among the warring parties and convinces us all that there is more to be gained in harmony than in discord with our fellow species.