Loss of nature deforestation; Loss of nature deforestation;

COP15 and the critical fight for nature restoration

The curtain recently closed in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on the COP27 UN climate conference – the sixth convention since the seminal Paris Agreement. And while the critical targets set in 2015 still evade us, progress is being made and there is much to be hopeful about. It is with this sense of hope that the world turns to Montreal and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 taking place in Canada from 7-19 December 2022.

While the more prominent annual climate COPs have captured the public attention for almost a decade, their sister COP’s purpose is perhaps less clear. COP15 aims to produce a global framework for tackling the biodiversity crisis, to be used not only under the UN Convention, but comprehensively for all global conversations and initiatives. Yet despite pledging at COP10 to the Aichi Targets for biodiversity, governments have failed to achieve any of their aims.

Will Montreal be different? I certainly hope so. Here’s why.

1. Growing awareness of the nature crisis by a global audience

In 2019 the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published a report that identified five key drivers of biodiversity loss. On the surface these may seem obvious, but what was critical was the identification and linking of the indirect drivers underpinning each key driver, such as human patterns of production and consumption, trade trends and financial systems, and local governance. With this acknowledgement, the conversation around nature loss moved firmly from the realm of ecologists into the public. We’ve long known that biodiversity and climate are interconnected. What has been missing is the essential third point in the triangle, the human dimension. It is people who have caused this crisis, people who are being impacted, and, ultimately, people who will fix it.

The Paris Agreement created the common currency of carbon, but the complexity of the biodiversity crisis means we’re never going to find that singular carbon equivalent. The impact of nature loss in the arctic will be felt and assessed entirely differently than in the rainforest or a major metropolitan city. What we can articulate, however, is our goal. For climate action it is decarbonization – simple as that – decarbonization in service of reaching that 1.5 – 2 degree target. For biodiversity the targets may need to be many and varied, but the goal is always ecological restoration. With this clarity comes an acknowledgement that we can no longer let perfect be the enemy of good – we must act now.

2. Nature loss is happening everywhere – and already impacting you

The biodiversity crisis is happening everywhere. We used to ringfenced the issue; it was happening in hotspots like the Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon. In reality, it’s happening on our doorsteps.

The global Covid 19 pandemic drew attention to this by spotlighting the lack of urban green space. From mental wellbeing to respiratory health to immune system modulation and the exposure to naturally recurring bacteria, there was an awareness that large portions of the global population were being negatively impacted by a lack of interaction with ecologically functional green space.

3. It will require an interconnected and equitable approach

The urban regeneration efforts kickstarted by the pandemic also raised the question of equity. The challenges of lockdowns in cities emphasized how intensely the nature loss was affecting disadvantaged communities. This isn’t the only place where the inclusion is essential to tackling the biodiversity crisis. Many targets in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework up for discussion at COP15 relate to equality and listening to the voice of underrepresented communities. The current biodiversity discussion is striving to be completely inclusive, including efforts to use indigenous people’s knowledge and practices for managing biodiversity, the sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources, and the involvement of diverse voices including indigenous peoples, women, and young people, in decision-making. While the challenges, especially those around access and benefit-sharing, are many and multifaceted, recent years have seen a pivotal commitment to finding solutions.

4 It's a risk for public and private sectors and the solution needs to be a shared responsibility

While the anticipated COP15 framework may not be the rallying cry desired, the cascading series of targets and geographically specific measurement metrics support avenues for meaningful change.

The challenge for ecological restoration includes two key players: (1) governments, who will convert enable the global biodiversity framework through national legislation, and crucially (2) the private sector, who will need to respond to those policies and targets. The private sector is not simply on the hook for doing their part to mitigate nature loss, however. Beyond the impending compliance and reporting questions ecological restoration offers numerous benefits for business, including efficiencies across operations and supply chains, new opportunities and markets, and advocacy within respective industry sectors while ensuring proactive management of reputational risk and reward.

These four critical shifts in the global conversation around nature loss offer strong reason to hope that we are now in a very different, and more positive, place than we were in the lead up to COP10 over a decade ago. But to capitalize on this moment will require large scale implementation - both cities and private sector working with experts who are willing to innovate beyond business as usual, who know what these interventions should look like on the ground, and, most importantly, how to move from ideas to actions.