Biodiversity Climate Change Conservation

2023 January Biodiversity: COP15 and other news

Photo archives Agence France-Presse

COP15: Key outcomes agreed at the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal

Almost 200 countries have agreed to a new set of goals and targets to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. The landmark deal was reached after two weeks of often tense talks in Montreal at the UN biodiversity summit, known as COP15. Observers hope that a strengthened mission, measurable targets and an “enhanced implementation mechanism” mean that the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), as it is formally known, will succeed where its predecessor – the Aichi targets, agreed at COP10 in 2010 – did not. Occurring two years later than planned due to the global pandemic, COP15 was characterised by the city’s frigid winter temperatures and sometimes-frosty negotiations. Tensions were high throughout the summit, with developed countries wanting to ratchet up the framework’s ambition, while developing countries sought assurance that developed countries would devote sufficient resources to allow them to do so. The final deal, reached in the early hours of Monday 19 December, included the oft-repeated headline target of “30×30” – an ambition to conserve 30% of the world’s land and 30% of the ocean by 2030. A second “30×30” goal also made it into the final package, with developed countries agreeing to mobilise $30bn for developing countries by 2030.

POST-COP 15 SUMMIT OPINIONS: The final outcome received wide news coverage alongside some editorials and columns. But, as opinion writer David Wallace-Wells wrote in his newsletter for the New York Times, it “received only a fraction of the press coverage lavished on the COP27 climate conference” in November. Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, wrote in a column for the Guardian that he left COP15 “feeling rather more optimistic than I did only a fortnight ago”. A Times editorial called the deal a “rare piece of good news in gloomy times”. Allison Hanes wrote in the Montreal Gazette that “the hoped-for ‘Montreal moment’ materialised”. Writing in the Scotsman, environmental campaigner and consultant Dr Richard Dixon said that the new framework is a “really big step forward for nature and human rights”, but that countries have been “slow to deliver on promised actions” and funding in past agreements. “The world has seven years to show it can do better for nature,” he concluded. (From Cropped email 2023/01/11).

The climate and biodiversity crises are intertwined. Credit: Chase Dekker/Shutterstock

Biodiversity treaty: UN deal fails to address the root causes of nature’s destruction, say professors

How historic is this deal, really? Judging from the effect of protected areas and major environment meetings over the last few decades, we should not get our hopes up. If there is anything that defines the history of mainstream conservation it is the steady rise of protected areas, covering about 2% of the globe in the 1960s to around 17% now. This progress was incredibly difficult, and still created many ineffective “paper parks” where species are protected from hunting and other threats in name only. Worse, it bred human rights abuses and violence as people were excluded from land that was declared off-limits. If it took 60 years to get to 17%, how realistic is a near-doubling of Earth’s protected areas over the next eight years? And how will it, despite the pact’s rhetoric of placing indigenous peoples at the centre of conservation, ensure that the violence of the past is not repeated? Perhaps, without these efforts, things could have been even worse for nature. But an equally valid argument would be that area-based conservation has blinded many to the causes of Earth’s diminishing biodiversity: an expanding economic system that squeezes ecosystems.

Roadmap to 2030: Delivering on Canada’s Land and Ocean Protection Targets

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) has for the first time released a report that sets out a pathway to get the country to within striking distance of its commitment to safeguard 30% of land and ocean in Canada by the end of the decade. This Roadmap identifies dozens of opportunities for protection across Canada, both on land and in the ocean, that include ongoing or already committed-to land use and/or conservation planning processes, including many Indigenous-led conservation initiatives.

Silverback mountain gorilla feasting on bamboo in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI

Underlining the importance of plants to biodiversity, Tim Knight of Fauna & Flora International writes about Five amazing plants and the endangered animals that depend on them. Pandas aren’t the only ones that eat bamboo, gorillas depend on it also. Gibbons dine on the evocatively named strangler fig, which starts life high in the treetops, when a bird that has fed on fig fruit elsewhere deposits poo containing undigested seeds. Mangroves, which serve to protect coastal areas from storm surges and erosion, are also important habitat and food sources for a variety of endangered species, including the pendulous-nosed proboscis monkey, one of Darwin’s famous Galápagos finches, and the Utila spiny-tailed iguana, named after the single Honduran island where it is found.

Rebecca’s front garden. Photo by Jon Last.

Small spaces can make a big difference to wildlife, new study suggests

Gardeners should take heart that they too can make a difference. Scientists from Lancaster University in the U.K., as well as Michigan and Washington State Universities in the U.S., conducted a study looking at the effectiveness of smaller wildflower planting and pollinator habitat creation. The results from the field study plots show that the beneficial effects of small patches are only found where there are multiple pollinator-friendly plots relatively closer together. The benefits were significantly reduced when there are fewer small plots spread out within large landscapes, such as big areas of farmland larger than 15 hectares. This research is supported by similar studies of little patches of pollinator-friendly plots within city environments, which have also shown to add up across a cityscape to be a huge natural resource for wild bees. The results were published by the journal Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment.

Garden writer Lorraine Johnson, pictured above, used the outcome of COP15 to highlight how municipal bylaws can be weaponized against habitat and biodiversity in this editorial in the Toronto Star. While negotiators were meeting at the UN biodiversity conference, a resident of an Ontario city was negotiating with municipal officials to protect biodiversity in her front yard. Endangered monarch butterflies nourished by the milkweed in this naturalized garden were on their journey to Mexico. Bees were nesting in the stalks of goldenrods and asters that bylaw officials labelled “unkempt weeds.” These two negotiations — one global, one local — couldn’t be more different, but their implications for the future of biodiversity share a crucial similarity: human tenure on this planet rests on our ability to reconcile with nature, and the policies we construct, whether global agreements or local bylaws, will either facilitate our success in protecting biodiversity or create barriers that limit our chances. She notes that nature is inherently messy. Municipal grass and weeds bylaws are rife with vague language and they’re subjectively interpreted by enforcement officers in response to neighbours upset by landscapes that looks “different” or “unmanaged.”

Advice to residents seeking to garden on the “hell strips” that border their gardens is to speak to neighbours and landlords first. Here in Ottawa, the city is currently reviewing bylaws regarding the planting of rights of way, such as these hell-strips. The objective is to permit residents who would like to plant something other than turf and create habitat for native plants and insects.