A global collapse of biodiversity across the planet requires a “Paris agreement for nature”, according to the architects of the landmark climate agreement forged in 2015.
In a joint statement issued at Cop27, they have urged world leaders to reach an ambitious sister deal for nature at the Cop15 biodiversity conference next month while warning “limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees is impossible without protecting and restoring ecosystems”.
Christiana Figueres, Laurence Tubiana, Laurent Fabius and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who helped design the Paris agreement, said that Cop15 in Montreal would be an “unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide on nature loss”.
The call has been endorsed by climate justice campaigner Mary Robinson, who also played a significant role in securing the agreement.
It follows scientific warnings that humans are driving the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, with 1m species in danger of extinction.
The biodiversity summit hosted by China just two weeks after Cop27 in Egypt, will negotiate this decade’s targets on preventing biodiversity loss. Despite the ominous scientific warnings about the health of the planet and the consequences for human civilisation, no world leaders are scheduled to attend the meeting. Any breakthrough will have to be secured at ministerial level.
There is no pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees without action on protecting and restoring nature
“Leaders must secure a global agreement for biodiversity which is as ambitious, science-based and comprehensive as the Paris agreement is for climate change. Like the Paris agreement, it must encourage countries to pledge and also ratchet up their action commensurate with the size of the challenge,” said the joint statement by the designers of the Paris climate agreement.
“There is no pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees without action on protecting and restoring nature. Only by taking urgent action to halt and reverse the loss of nature this decade, while continuing to step up efforts to rapidly decarbonise our economies, can we hope to achieve the promise of the Paris agreement.
“It must be inclusive, rights-based and work for all. And it must deliver, through the whole of society, immediate action on the ground – our future depends on it.”
They highlight humanity’s “accelerating destruction of nature is undermining its abilities to provide crucial services, including climate change mitigation and adaptation. As with climate change, it is the most vulnerable communities who bear the greatest impacts of biodiversity loss, from loss of food security and livelihoods to decreased climate resilience. The climate and nature agendas are entwined”.
In a separate announcement, a group of nearly 350 scientists, Indigenous peoples, businesses and NGOs have urged presidents and prime ministers to prioritise the nature summit.
On Tuesday, ministers from about 30 countries met in Sharm el-Sheikh at a side event co-hosted by Canada and China to discuss the draft nature agreement, formally known as the post-2020 biodiversity framework. Sticking points in negotiations were discussed by governments, including financial backing for the agreement.
As with climate change, it is the most vulnerable communities who bear the greatest impacts of biodiversity loss
At Cop15, China is overseeing a major UN agreement for the first time and holds the presidency, although its leaders have played a modest role so far, prompting fears that the biodiversity summit could be nature’s “Copenhagen moment”, a reference to the conference where climate talks fell apart in 2009.
Cop15 was moved from Kunming, China, to Canada after several pandemic-related delays, and no world leaders have been invited by Beijing, amid fears they are trying to downplay the event so as not to embarrass Xi Jinping, who is not expected to attend.
Helena Gualinga, a Kichwa indigenous youth climate leader from Sarayaku, Ecuador, said Cop15 was a “once-in-a-decade opportunity to agree a global deal for nature”, and that leaders needed to attend and produce an ambitious final agreement.
“Nature and the future of the climate are at stake, and we will not be safe until leaders are held accountable,” Ms Gualinga said. “For generations, my community has coexisted with nature, while witnessing extraction and deforestation of our territories devastate wildlife, nature and people. Our existence is our resistance, when we uphold our Indigenous rights we safeguard key ecosystems for the planet.”
Ms Gualinga’s community, a mere 1,200 people strong, has been trying to maintain a tropical forest of 144,000 hectares.
Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of those from civil society urging world leaders to take Cop15 seriously, said nature was crucial to keeping global heating within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.
“To have a 50 per cent chance of achieving 1.5 degrees and thus limiting tipping-point risks, global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050,” he said.
“Critically, these pathways rely on the continuing capacity of nature to operate as a carbon sink and to buffer against the worst impacts of climate change – 1.5 degrees is not a goal, it is a biophysical limit. Nature is one of the best climate solutions for remaining within that limit. An ambitious global framework for biodiversity at Cop15 that addresses root causes of decline of the global commons is urgent and necessary.”
Brazilian earth system scientist Carlos Nobre said at a Cop15 briefing that changes on the planet due to global warming were pushing the Amazon to a tipping point. This included the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and changes in ocean currents in the north Atlantic which were resulting in warmer water.
This meant the Amazon was experiencing hurricanes with increased strength, and yet droughts that were longer, hotter and drier-pushing. This was on top of wildfires and land use change, notably deforestation.
Echoing calls for “a sister agreement” in Montreal, Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF (World Wildlife Fund) International, said the current state of the planet based on climate disruption and nature loss was “terrifying”.
The two issues were “equally dangerous to the future of civilisation and to life on Earth as we know it”, he added. This was a time of unprecedented knowledge on how Earth systems work, understanding of impacts and increasingly the consequences, he said.
The same clarity that the Paris Agreement had provided was needed for nature, Lambertini said. Going for net-zero carbon emissions was not enough, but the immense regenerative ability of nature meant it could make a positive contribution if “a nature-positive goal” was set, while without it, containing temperatures to 1.5 degrees would be impossible. – Additional reporting: Guardian