Environment Opinion

COP26 omits biodiversity loss from agenda

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

A glaring omission from media releases and political statements relevant to the Glasgow COP26 meeting is biodiversity loss, writes Sue Arnold.

IN ITS REPORT, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear that climate change and biodiversity loss must be tackled together or neither would be successfully solved.

Ending deforestation, restoring natural habitats, creating refuges for wildlife are critical actions. Stopping the destruction of wildlife habitats, wetlands and mangroves must be included in any real response to climate change impacts.

Whilst the focus of Glasgow is finding a way to end coal, the ongoing loss of biodiversity is a long way behind the eight ball.

Ironically, as China, India and Australia refuse to address ending coal, the latest meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity was held in Kunming, China on 11-15 October.

Members of nearly 200 countries attended, including Australia. The focus of the conference was to finalise what has been described as the Paris Agreement for Nature. The Kunming Declaration aspires to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

The purpose of the new agreement is to replace the Aichi Biodiversity Targets which aimed to end illegal fishing and stop the extinction of known threatened species.

According to James Watson, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Queensland, none of the 20 Aichi targets was met.

The conference, according to the official website:

‘...will see the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will provide a strategic vision and a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade.’

A click through to member countries’ strategies takes you to Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030.

Here we find a clear statement of the importance of protecting biodiversity:

Conserving biodiversity is an essential part of safeguarding the biological life support systems on Earth. All living creatures, including humans, depend on these life support systems for the necessities of life. For example, we need oxygen to breathe, clean water to drink, fertile soil for food production and physical materials for shelter and fuel. These necessities can be described collectively as ecosystem services. They are fundamental to our physical, social, cultural and economic well-being.

Further on, under the heading ‘Australia’s biodiversity is vulnerable to climate change’:

‘These changes bring a high risk of an accelerating wave of extinctions and disruptions to ecological processes throughout the 21st Century and beyond.

 

Two major ways we can improve the chances of a reasonable future for biodiversity are:

  • Rapidly and effectively reducing human-induced elements of climate change.
  • Adapting the way we manage biodiversity to meet existing and new threats.’

There is no reference or updating of the strategy to take into account the loss of an estimated 3 billion animals as a result of the 2019-2020 catastrophic bushfires. This loss has been described as one of ‘the worst wildlife disasters in modern history’.

The strategy describes ‘existing long-term pressures on biodiversity to be the main cause of biodiversity loss’, with an acknowledgement that ‘climate change will magnify the impact of these threats and directly threaten some species and ecological communities’.

No descriptor of these existing long term pressures is made.

One strategy target is to:

‘...achieve a national increase of 600,000 km2 of native habitat managed primarily for biodiversity conservation across terrestrial aquatic and marine environments.’

IA can’t locate any federal government link to any “native habitat managed for biodiversity conservation”.

Another target is:

‘...to ensure that species have large areas of linked habitat, in many different environments across all landscapes, along the coasts and in the oceans.’

A more appropriate designation of targets would be pipe dreams.

The strategy is completely contradicted by reality. Extinctions are now driven by governments as part and parcel of planning policy for massive urbanisation projects to support huge immigration numbers, mining and reckless industrial logging of remaining forests.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley has made extraordinary attempts to convince the public the Morrison Government has concerns about wildlife.

In July 2020, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment released a consultation paper titled ‘Developing a new Threatened Species Strategy’ replete with graphs, objectives, purpose statements and pretty pictures.

Climate change is mentioned as a ‘theme that may be included in the prioritisation framework’.

Included is the usual list of questions which the submitter is encouraged to respond to in any submission.

The questions are ridiculous.   

For example:

‘How important do you think each of the prioritisation principles in the current Threatened Species Strategy is for identifying priority species in the new Strategy? (Extremely important, very important, moderately important, slightly important, not at all important.)’

In May 2021, out popped the Threatened Species Strategy 2021-2031 — that sets a clear vision to identify ‘key action areas that are fundamental to the recovery of threatened species and ecological communities and establishes principles for identifying threatened species and places to focus Australian Government effort’.

To save the feds time, this columnist can make a few suggestions fundamental to recovery of biodiversity, with the first priority to address climate change impacts in sync with biodiversity loss by:

  • limiting immigration to sustainable environmental levels;
  • ending the mining of coal;
  • transferring to renewable (non-forest biomass) energy as fast as possible by adopting real plans to ensure an economical and environmentally viable workable strategy is in place that includes recognising deforestation as a cause of major carbon emissions;
  • protecting remaining forests by ending logging; and
  • strengthen the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act (EPBC), ensuring mandatory provisions for habitat protection and public citizens’ rights to legal challenges; dissolving the common assessment method that allows for one only national listing of species.

Climate change and the connection to biodiversity loss is barely recognised in the strategy.

The first stage is to list 100 priority species including birds, mammals, plants, fish, reptiles, insects and frogs. These lucky 100 species were selected from 1,800 species listed under the EPBC Act.

What precisely will be the benefit of inclusion on the list is unclear. 

The Government will commit $10 million to support the 100 species. One million annually is unlikely to go far.

The Federal Government has also produced Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019-2030.  

Bureaucrats must be awfully busy writing up all these spin documents.

This document sets three priority focus areas identified as national goals:

  1. connect all Australians with nature (the PM apparently missed out);
  2. care for nature in all of its diversity; and
  3. share and build knowledge.

Replete with graphs, goals, targets, meaningless objectives — it’s the same old stuff regurgitated ad nauseum.

It’s going to take more than a miracle to change the dynamics. 

The warnings are out there. 

As Professor Watson says:

“If we don’t fix it and take action on biodiversity now, the World Economic Forum forecasts this will have catastrophic implications for the world’s economy.”

Over the next two weeks, the future of the planet will be decided one way or another. Without biodiversity, Mother Earth will be a lonely, inhospitable place. 

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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