The 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) concluded in the early hours on Monday, December 19th with the adoption of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), known as the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework. The UNCBD is a multilateral treaty with three core goals, “the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” Additionally, the post-2020 GBF defines targets for biodiversity conservation for the next decade, and with nearly 200 Parties and an estimated 15,000 attendees present for the biodiversity summit, there were various obstacles and points of tension that Parties did not agree on.
The dust has settled at the resorts in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, as delegates of countries and corporations leave the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The only advance made in the final agreement was for the creation of a ‘loss and damage fund’ for ‘vulnerable countries’. However, despite being hailed as a breakthrough, the deal is little more than the financing of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage agreed upon at the COP25 in 2019. It also remains to be seen whether this new financing will in fact be realised. Under previous agreements, such as the Green Climate Fund established at the COP15 in 2009, developed countries promised to provide developing countries $100 billion per year in financing by 2020, but have failed to meet their stated goals.
The fifth round of United Nations talks that began in New York on August 15 and were aimed at securing a UN Ocean Treaty to protect marine life in the international waters of the High Seas has ended in another stalemate, reported The Guardian. The treaty would have established regulations for the protection of biodiversity in two-thirds of the world’s non-territorial waters. “We’re disappointed that governments at the UN did not bring the High Seas Treaty over the finish line this week. However, it has been uplifting to witness the global momentum for ocean action steadily build throughout these negotiations. Communities across the world are asking for decisive ocean action to protect marine life and safeguard the vital role the ocean plays for the climate, global food security and the overall health of our planet.
We know more than ever about the abundance of life in the soil. Now we have to step up to save it. Look down. You may not see the soil beneath your feet as teeming with life, but it is. Better scientific tools are helping us understand that dirt isn’t just dirt. Life in the soil includes microbes like bacteria and fungi; invertebrates such as earthworms and nematodes; plant roots; and even mammals like gophers and badgers who spend part of their time below ground. It’s commonly said that a quarter of all the planet’s biodiversity lives in the soil, but that’s likely a vast understatement. Many species that reside there, particularly microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and protists, aren’t yet known to science.
A new report from the The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) – which is often described as the “IPCC for biodiversity” – found that billions of people depend on 50,000 wild species for food, medicine, fuel and income from activities like tourism. “70% of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species. One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking and about 90% of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing,” assessment co-chair Dr. Marla R. Emery said in a press release.
Even if global temperatures start to decrease, after peaking this century due to climate change, biodiversity risks are likely to persist for decades, a new study by London’s Global University (UCL) and University of Cape Town researchers finds. The potential impacts on biodiversity were modeled against pre-industrial levels if temperatures increased by more than 2°C (35.6°F), before beginning to fall again. Climate change and all of its anthropomorphic influences are already facing a biodiversity crisis, with mass dieoffs — such as hundreds of migratory birds falling out of the sky in the Southwest in 2020.
Mass extinction lurks beneath the surface of the sea. That was the dire message from a study published in April in the journal Science, which found that continuing to emit greenhouse gases unchecked could trigger a mass die-off of ocean animals that rivals the worst extinction events in Earth’s history. The findings serve as just the latest reminder that climate change and biodiversity loss are interconnected crises — even if they’re rarely addressed in tandem by policymakers. Toward that point, the Science study came with a dose of hopeful news: Action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius could cut that extinction risk by 70%.
On April 1, 2022 Roxy’s Law, a ban on trapping on New Mexico public lands more than a decade in the making, goes into effect after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed it last year. Nearly 32 million acres of public lands, including state-owned parcels, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management holdings will be free not only of cruel leghold traps, which can amputate and maim, but also from strangulation snares, body-crushing traps, and deadly poisons like sodium cyanide bombs. From the beautiful Latir Peak Wilderness to the incredible Florida Mountains, vast amounts of New Mexico will be safer for people, pups, and wildlife alike. Along with Roxy’s Law, New Mexico has recently taken other meaningful steps toward protecting wildlife.
The history of life on Earth has been marked five times by events of mass biodiversity extinction caused by extreme natural phenomena. Today, many experts warn that a Sixth Mass Extinction crisis is underway, this time entirely caused by human activities. A comprehensive assessment of evidence of this ongoing extinction event was published recently in the journal Biological Reviews by biologists from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa and the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France. "Drastically increased rates of species extinctions and declining abundances of many animal and plant populations are well documented, yet some deny that these phenomena amount to mass extinction," said Robert Cowie, lead author of the study and research professor at the UH Mānoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).
It’s no secret that the diversity of life around us is plummeting fast. In 2020 alone, scientists declared more than 100 species to be extinct. And that’s bad news not only for the creatures themselves, but for those of us (that would be all of us) who rely on them for food, to produce oxygen, to hold soil in place, to cleanse water, to beautify our world and so much more. According to the World Economic Forum, nature plays a key role in generating more than half of global GDP. So, what can we do to reduce future harm? One big thing is to identify emerging threats and opportunities to protect biodiversity and proactively shape policies and actions to prevent harm early on.
Climate change is only one symptom of a broader ecological crisis; the rapid loss of wild life is equally critical. Most species other than humans and our livestock, (and pets and pests) have had horrifying drops in population within the last 70 years or so, even if they are not yet threatened with extinction. We and our livestock are now 96% of the mass of land vertebrates, leaving all wild creatures together to comprise a mere 4%. At this rate within another generation there may be virtually nothing left but us and our coterie—and we would not survive that, as we depend on a network of life more complex than we can imagine. We’re also seeing the oceans acidifying, filling with plastic and toxins, and warming; topsoil depleted, rivers and aquifers running dry; and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and power plants leaving sites potentially dangerous for thousands or even millions of years.
Animal Rebellion protesters have barricaded a McDonald's factory in Scunthorpe in a move to get the burger chain to switch to an entirely "plant-based food menu by 2025." The ‘animal and climate justice’ movement said that around 100 protestors set up a blockade using trucks, tents, bamboo structures in the early hours of Thursday morning to stop the facility from distributing burgers. Trucks with the sign “McMurder” stood outside the factory while police vans encircled the area. The campaigners, urging others to join in, said they will stay as long as it takes until McDonald’s commits to changing towards a plant-based menu. Accusing the global fast-food chain of poor labour conditions and wreaking havoc on the environment, the activists said that they would end the blockade if McDonald’s makes the first step towards this goal by committing to becoming 20 per cent plant-based within one year.
Ecosystem degradation is accelerated by capitalism, which intensifies pollution and waste, deforestation, land-use change and exploitation, and carbon-driven energy systems. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, Climate Change and Land (January 2020), notes that only 15% of known wetlands remain, most having been degraded beyond the possibility of recovery. In 2020, the UNEP documented that, from 2014 to 2017, coral reefs suffered from the longest severe bleaching event on record. Coral reefs are projected to decline dramatically as temperatures rise; if global warming rises to 1.5°C, only 10-30% of reefs will remain, and if global warming rises to 2°C, then less than 1% of reefs will remain.
At the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the delegates decided to hold an annual World Environment Day. In 1974, the UN urged the world to celebrate that day on 5 June with the slogan ‘Only One Earth’; this year, the theme is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’, emphasising how the capitalist system has eroded the earth’s capacity to sustain life. The Global Footprint Network reports that we do not live on one Earth, but on 1.6 Earths. We live on more than one Earth because, by encroaching and destroying biodiversity, degrading land, and polluting the air and water, we are cannibalising the planet. This newsletter contains a Red Alert from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research on the environmental catastrophe that befalls us. Several key scientists have contributed to it. It can be read below and downloaded as a PDF print out here; we hope that you will circulate it widely.
As most of us sat at home during the past year, seeking safety from the pandemic and isolated from each other, we had little to protect us from the onslaught of historic national traumas and anxieties. We watched in horror as over half a million Americans died, millions lost their livelihoods while others had to face the virus at work, an unarmed Black man was slowly murdered by a policeman on camera, and our President encouraged a white rightwing insurrection. All of this is superimposed on the global existential crisis of climate change and the economic abandonment of many places across the country. If years can be ranked by their impact on the mental health and well- being of people, 2020-2021 would easily be near the top of the list.