COP15: We cannot afford another lost decade for biodiversity - Green MP Caroline Lucas
As we all know, it has been delayed multiple times, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is now due to take place in Montreal from December 5-17, while China still retains the presidency.
If the negotiating process has been slowed down, environmental decline most certainly has not. Deforestation in the Amazon, for example, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, has now reached a six-year high. Recent satellite observation suggests that it could fast be approaching a tipping point beyond which the forest could be lost in its entirety.
A new UN report published in April warned that human activities have already altered 70 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, degrading up to 40 per cent of it.
The truth is that our only home is not only on fire, but being bulldozed before our very eyes. That is why COP15 must agree a framework not just to halt biodiversity loss by 2030, but to reverse it. Our world desperately needs a nature-positive decade, so that by 2030 species and ecosystems are on a measurable path to recovery and biodiversity loss has started to be reversed.
By now, we all know the facts that, globally, one million species are at risk of extinction, and that the UK has lost, or I should say destroyed, almost half of its biodiversity since the industrial revolution, more than any other G7 country. A report published just this week by the Environment Agency showed that a quarter of mammals in England and almost a fifth of UK plants are now threatened with extinction.
Let me focus very briefly on what that actually means, because it is very easy to stand here and quote global or national statistics. I want to see it through the lens of one of my favourite species, which is the swift.
Since 1995, we have seen a decline of more than a half in the population of that bird. As the Minister may know, in December they were added to the UK’s red list of endangered birds along with the house martin and the greenfinch, joining the cuckoo and nightingale whose songs are now very rarely heard.
Swifts are summer visitors from Africa, arriving in the UK in the last week of April or in early May, staying only long enough to breed.
They are the most amazing, beautiful creatures and they are the fastest of all birds in level flight, reaching speeds of almost 70 miles an hour.
A single bird can fly more than 1 million miles in its lifetime. That is why it is honestly heartbreaking that we are seeing them less and less in our skies, and a profound tragedy that, without urgent action, our children and grandchildren are running out of time to discover the wonders that nature holds.
In that context, it is therefore extremely concerning to hear about the lack of progress at the recent COP15 meeting in Nairobi, with just two targets finalised and ongoing disagreements about finance and the headline nature loss targets in particular. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework, due to be adopted in Montreal, should be setting out a vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050 at the very latest.
It should be setting out a vision of reversing biodiversity loss, with a series of targets and milestones for 2030. As others have noted, it must be a Paris agreement for nature and mark a turning point in our relationship with the natural world.
According to observers there was an apparent lack of political leadership and urgency in those negotiating rooms in Nairobi, with countries failing to build consensus and with the text as a consequence being described as “messy and lacklustre”. As one campaigner with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds put it, “We have a marathon to finish before we can say that we are close to a successful outcome, but no one seems to be running let alone sprinting.”
As the Minister will know, the world failed to fully achieve any of the 20 UN biodiversity targets that were agreed back in 2010. Here in the UK, we missed a shocking 17 out of 20 targets, again leading the RSPB to declare that we had seen a “lost decade for nature.”
The world simply cannot afford another lost decade. It is essential that an ambitious framework is agreed at COP15 and that we learn from the failed efforts of the past to ensure that its targets are met.
- An edited speech by the member for Brighton, Pavilion - Parliament’s only Green MP - on the COP15 summit.