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UN Summit on Biodiversity: The World Leaders Promise for Nature

Nature underpins the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, our systematic disregard for the environment and deeply rooted social inequalities endanger progress on the path to sustainable development. The ongoing loss of nature threatens more than half of global GDP, as well as the lives and wellbeing of people, with the poorest and most vulnerable being hit first and hardest. This has been brought into focus this year, with the roots of the current, devastating COVID-19 pandemic tied to our nature mismanagement.

While COVID-19 is an economic and social tragedy, it offers an unprecedented opportunity to reset humanity’s relationship with nature and bring about the change that is needed in our political, economic and financial system. The UN Summit on Biodiversity, held on September 30 as part of the high-level segment of the 75th UN General Assembly entitled “Urgent Biodiversity Action for Sustainable Development”, provided a similarly unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate collective ambition.

Our appeal to the heads of state and government of the world

In an unprecedented, coordinated series of calls to action representing tens of millions of people and hundreds of companies around the world, BirdLife International joined 15 other environmental and development organizations, coalitions and foundations at the summit to challenge world leaders to the value Recognize nature not only as the foundation of a healthy and resilient economy, but also as the foundation for human wellbeing, peace and security, and place nature at the center of their agenda. We have called on governments to adopt a global goal for nature to be part of a just, climate-neutral and nature-positive world by the end of this decade. Achieving this nature-positive goal requires immediate and effective action to both protect nature and address the causes of its decline by 2030.

Sword-billed Hummingbird, Copyright Trevor Ellery, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The UN Summit on Biodiversity

There was a lot of energy leading up to the summit. The Nature for Life Hub hosted a series of hardhitting panel discussions supported by a consortium of BirdLife. We have attended meetings on a new nature, conservation, human rights and spatial mapping agreement, as well as the civil society segment Voices for Nature of the summit itself. We also supported the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, signed by over 70 leaders, including the EU, and launched at a hub meeting shortly before the summit. This commits the signatories to collective ambitions for nature, climate and people.

The summit was originally intended as an occasion for world leaders to commit to ambitious action a month before the new 10-year global framework for biodiversity in China was signed. With COVID-19 delaying negotiations and signing the contract for up to a year, forcing the summit to switch to a semi-distant format, we saw an understandable change in dynamics with some positive and less positive results.

The positive

Record-breaking heads of state and government called for a speech at the summit. It has been widely recognized that biodiversity loss and our mismanagement of nature are leading to ecological collapse, exacerbating climate change and fueling the incidence of zoonotic diseases, and that change, including through green recovery, is needed to reverse things .

Many countries such as Kenya and Croatia have repeated our call for a climate-neutral, nature-positive world. The need for collective action and the importance of multilateralism have been heightened by countries such as China, Canada and France. The UK and the European Commission called for clear, measurable targets that would enable countries to hold each other accountable. France, Jordan, Slovenia and Ecuador have all highlighted the links between nature conservation or natural rights and human rights, and Pavan Sukhdev stated on behalf of civil society organizations that the right to a healthy environment must be recognized as a fundamental right. The High Ambition Coalition, led by Costa Rica and France, called for the protection of 30% of the planet by 2030 with a similar goal for the oceans advocated by the Global Oceans Alliance.

The less positive

Few countries have made specific proposals (the US being particularly absent). China, which had just pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060, did not reveal any equivalent new commitments for nature. Brazil defended national sovereignty and affirmed “international greed” towards the Amazon. Guyana, on behalf of the G77, called on the industrialized countries to allocate more resources to developing countries for the implementation of the post-2020 framework. The indigenous youth representative from India warned of human rights violations in connection with an increase in protected areas.

What next?

At the summit and the related meetings, the need for further discussion, bridge building and engagement in relation to concrete goals and measures was highlighted. The promise of the Heads of State or Government lays a strong foundation for this, and we will work with parties and other stakeholders in the coming months to ensure that the post-2020 global framework for biodiversity successfully protects people and planets for future generations.

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