Big biodiversity breakthroughs

Big biodiversity breakthroughs

There is reason to be fairly optimistic about major advances in international attitudes towards ending the devastation humans have been causing to other forms of life on the planet.

The United Nations Biodiversity Conference held near the end of the year in Montreal, Canada, received scant publicity compared with the COP27 summit in Egypt in November.

The biodiversity conference was to have been held two years ago in China but had to be postponed because of the COVID pandemic. This time it was presided over by China and hosted instead by Canada with delegates from 196 nations, including Portugal and the rest of the European Union.

At the same time as backing up all other international efforts to limit global warming by 2030, the latest biodiversity deal features important agreements about conserving wildlife and habitats.

The first of the key points agreed was a sweeping project to protect 30% of the world’s lands and 30% of the oceans by 2030. So far, only about 17% of the land and 8% of the sea are protected from such activities as excessive amounts of mining, farming and fishing.

The second key point was that developed countries agreed to contribute $30 billion by 2030 to help with biodiversity in developing countries.

Dozens of other more technical matters were settled, including monitoring mechanisms and areas for future work to stop crises that, if left unchecked, could jeopardise the world’s food and fresh water supplies.

The United States and the Holy See were the only places in the world not party to this landmark meeting. The US did not engage as Republican politicians blocked entry because they are typically opposed to joining treaties, according to the New York Times.

 The European Union contributed a lot to the Montreal conference. It had published its own report on biodiversity some weeks earlier. As described by the European Commission, the EU’s new strategy is a comprehensive, ambitious and long-term plan to protect nature and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.

The strategy contains specific actions and commitments to putting Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 for the benefit of people, the climate and the planet.

While the strategy aims to establish a much larger network of protected areas on land and at sea by 2030, it also wants to build confidence in the resilience of EU societies to the impacts of climate change, food insecurity and protecting wildlife from illegal trade and disease outbreaks.

In Portugal, 401 areas comprising more than 22% of the land and 2.5% of marine waters are officially protected areas. The European Natura 2000 sites in Portugal, covering national and natural parks and other special landscapes, give protection to 439 of the most endangered species and 102 of the most vulnerable habitats in the EU.

Independent organisations are pressing hard to stop deforestation and other shocking human activities such as hunting increasingly rare animals, including elephants, rhinos, leopards and tigers, for profit or pleasure.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the largest independent organisation of its kind, is working closely with many countries, including those in the EU. It is committed to protecting all of Europe’s unique wildlife and biodiversity, especially the Mediterranean region and Black Sea basin.

Now that the EU strategy to 2030 has been released, the WWF says it will work to ensure the European Parliament and the European Council support the implementation of the objectives.

Scientists say that unless humans radically mend their ways and curb global warming along with biodiversity destruction, the world could be facing the calamitous loss of a million species, the greatest mass extinction since the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and three-quarters of all other lifeforms 66 million years ago.

In its 2022 Living Planet Report, the WWF states that there has been an average 65% decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish since 1970.

The report has a clear note of optimism however: “Together, we can take action to create lasting solutions and protect the future of nature.”


Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: