World leaders sent strong signals of hope for global biodiversity at UN summit

Last week’s UN Summit on Biodiversity saw heads of state from around the world showing support for an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Leading up to the event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined WWF’s Leaders’ Pledge for Nature while Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathon Wilkinson committed Canada to the intergovernmental High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, demonstrating that our country will be a champion in protecting biodiversity while driving others to step up to reach a global goal of 30 per cent protection by 2030.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at WWF Leader's Pledge for Nature event
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at WWF Leader’s Pledge for Nature event

These announcements bolster several recent findings of catastrophic decline in biodiversity around the world. The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report showed that, globally, wildlife have declined by 68 per cent on average from 1970 to 2016. At home, WWF-Canada’s Living Planet Report Canada 2020 found that species of global conservation concern (assessed by IUCN) have seen their populations in Canada fall by an average of 42 per cent in the same time.

These findings show that when it comes to conservation, our actions must speak as loudly as our words. To date, Canada is the only one of the ten largest countries in the world to commit to protecting 30 per cent of our land and oceans by 2030. And with the second largest area of ecological integrity remaining in the world, Canada has an important opportunity — in fact, a global responsibility — to achieve this ambitious goal.

Keeping nature intact and avoiding further loss of wildlife habitat is important for both biodiversity and the vast amounts of carbon stored within it. To help reach new protected area targets, the government renewed its emphasis on Indigenous-led conservation — a move that will ensure that conservation going forward will be effective, equitable and inclusive.

Finally, the government acknowledged the deep connection between biodiversity loss and climate change, renewing its commitment to nature-based climate solutions, which aim to protect, steward and restore key habitats for wildlife, including species at risk. Nature-based climate solutions also actively store and sequester carbon, helping us to mitigate climate change.

And while this is all good news, we cannot compromise quality for quantity. For protected areas to be truly meaningful in stopping wildlife loss and fighting climate change, where and how we protect these areas matters.

The recent UN Global Biodiversity Outlook reported that not a single one of the 20 CBD goals set in 2010 were fully met over the last decade.  And in order to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, last week’s commitments must set the stage for a decade of action to move toward a carbon-neutral, nature-positive, and equitable future.

The new commitments help build an urgent momentum towards creating a multilateral agreement on biodiversity, through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which will be negotiated in early 2021 to set a new framework for action to halt and reverse the decline of biodiversity around the world.

With more than 70 countries joining the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, there is a growing global consensus recognizing the role of nature as a foundation of our economy and human health. Ultimately, we have a fleeting opportunity to set an ambitious framework that restores the balance of nature to build a healthy and more resilient planet.