In this interview, AIQ catches up with Tanzanian biodiversity leader and lawyer Elizabeth Maruma Mrema about the threat of biodiversity loss, the recent Kunming Declaration and missed Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as the role of finance in protecting nature.

Read this article to understand:

  • The threat of biodiversity loss and how to measure it
  • What came out of the Kunming Declaration made at COP15 last year
  • The role finance can play in protecting biodiversity

Nature and the climate are inextricably linked. This means solving the crisis in one is impossible without solving the other. Unfortunately though, somewhere along the line, nature and climate got separated in policymakers’ minds.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity and co-chair of the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. She is hopeful that this can be done, and lessons can be learned from our failure to meet any of the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and argues that progress was made, and a solid foundation has been laid that can be built upon.

How great a threat does biodiversity loss pose to human societies and economies?

It poses a real and significant threat. We know that biodiversity is the foundation of life. It provides us with the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. It sequesters carbon and yields many other benefits.

We also know that in economic terms, biodiversity is a global asset with tremendous value, for both present and future generations. Studies have clearly shown our economies are highly dependent on nature and ecosystem services. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), half of global GDP or $44 trillion of economic value, is highly or moderately dependent on nature or the services it provides. The livelihoods of over 70 per cent of people living in poverty worldwide depend on natural resources: 2.6 billion people derive their livelihoods fully or partly from agriculture, 1.6 billion from forests and 250 million from fisheries.

Economies are therefore exposed to risks due to biodiversity loss. But equally, there are benefits which can be harnessed, and market opportunities that cannot be ignored. The WEF has estimated an economy centred on sustainable development can unlock at least $10.1 trillion of business opportunities.

How do we measure biodiversity and biodiversity loss? What are the key challenges involved?

Over the last decade, we have made tremendous progress on collecting and processing biodiversity data. Satellites are collecting hundreds of terabytes of data every day, allowing us to better map terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Over two billion species occurrence records are now available in the open-access Global Biodiversity Information Facility database.1

The data available is not equitably distributed across countries

In terms of the challenges involved, the data available is not equitably distributed across countries. The greatest concentration of data is in North America and Europe, as opposed to other places with higher biodiversity. Neither is the data equitably distributed across species.

That’s why the post-2020 global biodiversity framework will adopt a strong monitoring framework, with national reporting on indicators of biodiversity and biodiversity loss.

Part one of COP15 took place in October. What are the elements of the Kunming Declaration that came out of the conference?

The work is incomplete without COP part two. But COP part one enabled us to build momentum and get confirmation of the political will among governments.

Kunming Declaration signatories have committed to increase the application of ecosystem-based approaches

The Kunming Declaration urges countries to recognise the importance of biodiversity in human health. Signatories to the Declaration have committed to work across governments to continue to promote the integration and mainstreaming of biodiversity values in their policies, regulations, planning processes, disaster risk reduction plans and economic accounting, as well as to strengthen cross-sectoral coordinating mechanisms on biodiversity. They have committed to improve the effectiveness of area-based conservation measures to protect species and reduce threats to biodiversity.

They have also committed to step up efforts to ensure fair and equitable benefit-sharing from the use of genetic resources, including acknowledging the importance of traditional knowledge in the context of ongoing emerging developments in technology.

But the world has set out biodiversity targets before, notably at the 2010 Aichi Convention, and subsequently missed them. How can we ensure we do better in delivering on the goals of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework?

Indeed, although progress was made in some areas, none of the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were fully met. But the non-fulfilment of those targets provides lessons which can be learned in the new framework.

Governments alone cannot lead on global biodiversity loss

For instance, there was an expectation that implementation of the Aichi Targets was the responsibility of governments. Over the last decade, we have learned the lesson that governments alone cannot lead on global biodiversity loss. What is needed is cooperation of all stakeholders; an “all-of-society”, “whole-of-government” approach that brings economic, social development and environmental plans into the discussion.

This time, we also want to reduce the time lag between the planning and implementation of biodiversity strategies.

What other lessons can we learn from the failure to meet the Aichi Targets?

The Aichi Targets lacked monitoring, review and reporting mechanisms to enable countries to measure progress. This time, there will be an accountability framework that incorporates these mechanisms.

The previous strategic plan lacked the resources needed for implementation

The previous strategic plan also lacked the resources needed for implementation. The post-2020 framework recognises that $500 trillion is spent every year on harmful subsidies for agriculture and fisheries, and that if this capital is redirected into cleaner, nature-positive activities, then a lot of the money is already there to close the financing gap.

Another lesson learned since 2010 is that we cannot deal with biodiversity loss without solutions to climate change, just as we cannot have climate change solutions without paying attention to the loss of biodiversity.

You are co-chair of the Task Force for Nature-related Financial Disclosures. Can you elaborate further on the role finance can play in helping to address the biodiversity crisis?

The financial sector is an economy’s main mechanism for allocating resources and distributing risks, and it therefore has a critical role to play in addressing the global biodiversity crisis. Alignment of financial flows was one of the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. Bringing financial flows into alignment with global biodiversity goals is equally important and will be crucial to the success of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and the second part of COP15.

Disclosure of nature-related financial information will have implications for improved economic stability

Financial disclosure has a major role to play in enabling all investors, from banks to insurance companies, integrate nature-related risks, and to incorporate into their investment decisions the impacts on nature of the operations they finance. As a result, we hope the financial sector will not only better manage the risks and the impacts, but also identify opportunities to shift from nature-negative financial flows to nature-positive flows. The disclosure of nature-related financial information will also have implications for improved economic stability.

Your background is in is environmental law. We have seen increasing litigation against companies causing climate change from those affected by it. Do you think we'll start to see more litigation related to the impact of biodiversity loss as well?

I would not be surprised to see an increase in litigation related to biodiversity loss. We’ve seen youth groups pushing governments to take actions on the commitments that have made for nature. We’re already starting to see some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) asking companies and financial institutions exactly what they are doing on biodiversity risks, in terms of impact management.

Looking at the figures on the mass extinctions of wildlife and the destruction of nature, it's easy to become discouraged. How can we ensure we stay optimistic as we work to protect nature?

We need to come together to solve these common global issues

Nature is so important for our day to day lives. We need to remain optimistic and positive if we are to contribute to the actions needed. We need to come together to solve these common global issues.

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