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Red pandas are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.(Photo: Mathias Appel/Flickr/cc)

Nature Defenders Warn Global Biodiversity 'Kunming Declaration' Lacks Urgency

While welcoming a pledge by over 100 countries to make "transformative change," conservationists say governments must turn "words into reality."

Jessica Corbett

More than 100 countries on Wednesday concluded a round of negotiations on global efforts to restore and protect the variety of life on Earth by pledging "urgent and integrated action" to achieve "transformative change, across all sectors of the economy and all parts of society."

"Ambition urgently needs to ramp up from here before the spring 2022 session."

While conservation advocacy groups worldwide welcomed the "Kunming Declaration" on biodiversity, they also made clear that its 17 specific commitments must be met with immediate, bold, and concrete steps to fully address the existential crisis the natural world now faces from human activity.

The pledge came out of a United Nations conference in Kunming, China that was attended in person and remotely—due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has underscored the need to reform humanity's relationship with nature—by parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty ratified by nearly all U.N. member nations, but not the United States.

The new declaration recognizes that "putting biodiversity on a path to recovery is a defining challenge of this decade" and the "strong political momentum" required to develop, adopt, and implement an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which governments are set to negotiate further in January 2022 then approve at a May meeting in China.

An Lambrechts, a senior campaign strategist at Greenpeace International, was critical of the pledge, noting the unprecedented nature of the current crisis and warning that "vague commitments that lack accountability are hardly a step forward" from 2010 biodiversity targets that the international community failed to meet.

"The Kunming Declaration could have provided a major boost to the slow-moving U.N. biodiversity negotiations. It offers a preview of what's to come in 2022 and makes modest attempts in some areas, but doesn't show enough progress on most of the contentious issues," Lambrechts said. "Ambition urgently needs to ramp up from here before the spring 2022 session."

The campaigner highlighted the "critical" importance of implementation strategies for goals such as 30x30—or protecting at least 30% of land and marine areas by 2030—and emphasized that "targets must recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and their key role in the preservation of nature and biodiversity."

Lin Li, director of global policy and advocacy at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the declaration "is a show of political will and adds much-needed momentum by clearly signaling the direction of travel to address biodiversity loss," but "its impacts will lie in how it is put into action" and "it is still critical for governments to turn these words into reality.

"In Kunming next May, this declaration must be turned into an action plan for nature which not only protects land, freshwater and seas, but also fundamentally addresses our unsustainable agricultural system, embraces nature-based solutions, ensures adequate funding and is robustly implemented," the WWF leader said.

"The world is waking up to the fact that the nature crisis is as serious as the climate crisis, but unfortunately this is not happening fast enough."

"The world is waking up to the fact that the nature crisis is as serious as the climate crisis, but unfortunately this is not happening fast enough," she added. "Biodiversity loss is threatening human health and livelihoods, and increasing the risk of the next pandemic, yet leaders' pledges are yet to be translated into ambition in the negotiation room. Now is the time to step up."

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the CBD, struck an optimistic tone in a statement Wednesday, saying that "the adoption of the Kunming Declaration is a clear indication of the worldwide support for the level of ambition that needs to be reflected in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be finalized next spring in Kunming."

Mrema also recognized Chinese President Xi Jinping's announcement Tuesday that his nation is committing about $230 million U.S. dollars to establish the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, and said she looks forward to more financial and technical commitments in support of the framework.

Li Shuo, global policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia, said the Kunming Declaration "gives us a hint on China's leadership style" and that the country's new "commitment to fund biodiversity protection at a larger scale could be the impetus others need to direct finance towards protecting biodiversity."

"But much remains to be seen on whether Beijing can spearhead a delicate multilateral process," Li added. "The contrast between China's ambitious domestic agenda and its modest diplomatic approach is striking. It's time to bridge that gap."

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