The rate of extinction of animals and plants was the highest in ten million years

“Paris moment” for biodiversity. This is what Elizabeth Mrema, Tanzanian president of the United Nations Organization for Biodiversity, called the main conference in Montreal, where agreement must be reached in the next two weeks on the conservation, protection and sustainable use of nature. She was referring to the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, where global agreements were successfully concluded to combat climate change.

The Biodiversity Summit was supposed to be held in China in 2020, but it has been repeatedly postponed due to Corona. China still does not dare to accept thousands of people from all over the world, but according to scientists and negotiators, nature is deteriorating so quickly that it would be irresponsible to postpone the conference even further.

That is why the summit, which is still under the Chinese presidency, has been moved to Montreal, the “neutral” zone because the office of the United Nations Biodiversity Organization is also located in that Canadian city.

1 The summit is about biodiversity. What is this actually?

Biodiversity is often thought of as the number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms on Earth. But environmentalists are counting more. It is not only about diversity between species, but also within species. In addition, variability between ecosystems is included.

Variation within species includes genetic and phenotypic variance (behavior, fitness, physiology), says Rob Alkemade, who is affiliated with the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and also Extraordinary Professor of Global Modeling of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at Wageningen University & Research. “The greater the genetic variation within a species, the greater the chance that that species will survive,” he says. Genetic variation is also important to farming. Crops are easier to reproduce and adapt to changing conditions if genetic variation within a species is greater.

The last global scientific analysis of biodiversity was conducted in 2019, by Ipbes, the intergovernmental platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Ipbes was founded in 2012 and in its design resembles the well-known United Nations climate agency, the intergovernmental body on climate change.

In the previous global analysis of biodiversity, conducted in 2005, the focus was still very much on the economic value of nature to humans. In her report, Ipbes also pays great attention to indigenous peoples and the different meanings that nature can hold for people. According to the report, in Western societies, “life From Nature has become too dominant. Other communities are also very attached to life.”FromAnd the in And the if Nature’.

2 What about global biodiversity?

Ipbes concludes that most characteristics of biodiversity have declined sharply over the past century. In terms of ecosystems, for example, the ancient forests are almost gone, leaving only 15 percent of the wetlands. Coral reefs have halved in size over the past 150 years, and are suffering the most from ocean warming and acidification. An estimated one million plant and animal species – about one-eighth of the estimated total – are threatened with extinction. The extinction rate is now tens to hundreds of times higher than it was in the past 10 million years.

The same picture of extreme poverty is expressed in the Biennale Living Planet Report From the World Wide Fund for Nature, which charts population trends around the world. The most recent report, from last October, shows that populations of wild mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish fell by an average of 69 percent between 1970 and 2018. The largest declines occurred in the tropics and freshwater regions, especially in Latin America.

Still other studies, particularly on insects, are looking at the trend in biomass. Decreases of 40 to 80 percent have been measured in periods ranging from twenty to forty years.

Impoverishment affects not only nature, but also agriculture. Of the more than 6,000 domesticated animal breeds, 559 are extinct and another 1,000 are threatened with extinction. It makes reproduction more difficult and makes farming more vulnerable to pathogens, pests, and climate change. An example of this is bananas. Cavendish is by far the most commonly cultivated variety. It is being threatened in more and more places by the encroachment of an innate variant.

researchers reported in the scientific journal last month Science advances The main causes of biodiversity loss have been identified. On Earth, this is the changing use of land. This mainly concerns the conversion of nature into agricultural land, mainly pastures for livestock and fields where animal fodder is grown. In addition, exploitation (logging, hunting, trafficking in wild animals and plants) plays an important role. In the sea, exploitation (overfishing) is the most important factor. Climate change is the fastest growing threat to biodiversity.

Read also: ‘We must hurry to prevent another mass extinction’

3 What are the biodiversity negotiations about?

At the great Earth Summit, the Earth Conference, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, biodiversity was one of the main topics – along with climate change. A separate department of international negotiations was created for both issues. The Convention on Biological Diversity led to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993, a treaty that has been ratified by every country in the world, except for the United States and Vatican City.

According to the treaty, states are obliged to protect biodiversity, to use nature only in a sustainable way and to allow the world to share in a fair way in the use and knowledge of genetic resources, for example in the pharmaceutical industry. The latter was one of the main reasons the United States pushed the treaty aside, as they feared the position of their large biotechnology industry.

Since 1993, many international agreements have been concluded to protect biological diversity. One of them is the Nagoya Protocol, named after the Japanese city where it was closed in 2010. This included twenty targets that had to be achieved by 2020.

Of the alleged Aichi objectives (after the area in which Nagoya is located), only six were partially achieved. A major study by Ipbes, the UN’s scientific committee on biodiversity, in 2020 showed that “most of the graphs point in the wrong direction,” environmental policy professor Ingrid Veserien-Hammkers, one of the authors, said at the time at the time. Norwegian Refugee Council explained. Important goals such as eliminating subsidies for environmentally polluting activities and halving the rate of nature degradation were not achieved.

4 What are the risks in Montreal?

In 2020, the Aichi Goals have officially expired. This is why the international community wanted to set new targets for biodiversity at a major conference in Kunming, China that year. This will be the first time that China has hosted such a major UN conference, indicating China’s growing influence on the geopolitical stage.

In part, Montreal will be the same (unfulfilled) goals as in Nagoya, but with a new urgency. Therefore, negotiations are under way again about “false” subsidies, about the use of pesticides, about financing nature conservation, land and water use.

More than previous conferences, the role of indigenous peoples in protecting biodiversity will be discussed. In the past, when protecting natural areas, people were removed from those areas as much as possible. Nature was behind the walls where the role of humans was reduced. Recent studies have shown that nature is better protected if indigenous people are given a hand in it.

Tough topics are the financing of biodiversity policy in developing countries, access to genetic knowledge and the sharing of the proceeds of that knowledge, for example by biotechnology companies in rich countries. As genetic codes become increasingly available in digital form, the distance to the plants and animals from which these codes come is increasing, and thus also to the countries of origin for those plants and animals. Developing countries therefore fear that they will no longer share in the proceeds of this type of genetic material and seem ready to let a new agreement fail completely if hard agreements are not reached on this subject.

5 What about biodiversity in the Netherlands?

There are different ways of expressing it, says Aaren van Hensburgh of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The Living Planet Index It investigates and presents the mean trend in population size for nearly all native species of breeding birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and dragonflies, and a large proportion of mammals and freshwater fish species.

In recent centuries, the average population size has decreased by about 85%. “In recent years we’ve seen a clear difference between nature reserves and the countryside,” says Van Hensberg. In nature reserves, the downward trend on average has stopped. “But it depends on the type of nature,” says Van Hensburgh. In forests, it decreased slightly after 1990, but turned around 2005 and has been increasing since then. In areas of open nature (heater, dunes and grasslands) there is still a strong decline after 1990, but this has also fallen sharply since about 2005.

“But in the countryside there is no such regression of decline,” says Van Hensberg. “Many animal species typical of agricultural habitats have been declining over the entire period since 1990.” Breeding of birds and butterflies in particular is declining. In mammals, the number of developed, sedentary and reduced species is in balance with each other.

Traditionally, urbanization, intensification of agriculture and environmental pollution have mainly caused the decline of nature in the Netherlands. This is now less important in protected natural areas (Natura 2000). There are present stressors: excessive nitrogen deposition and groundwater extraction. Outside nature reserves, agricultural intensification remains an important stressor.

6 What is the share of the Netherlands in the Montreal Summit?

In April this year, Minister van der Waal (VVD, Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality) recognized in a letter to the House of Representatives that agriculture, and especially the solution to the nitrogen problem, is an important part of the Netherlands’ biodiversity policy. Internationally, the government, along with the European Union, is advocating ambitious nature conservation targets. Van der Waal describes it as “alarming that a group of countries [daartegen] Withstands “.

If it were up to the Netherlands, countries would be obliged to report more often and more clearly about their nature policy. Partly because of a lack of transparency, van der Waal says, the goals of the past were never achieved. In her letter to parliament, she called for companies and financial institutions to better define the “impact on and dependence on biodiversity”.

As an example, the minister cites an analysis by De Nederlandsche Bank and the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency. According to this analysis, Dutch financial institutions are at risk of more than €480 billion as a result of the global loss of biodiversity.

In collaboration with Gemma Venhuizen.

Leave a Comment