The Convention on Biological Diversity is being discussed in Montreal this month, aiming to slow the rampant extinction of plants, animals and ecosystems such as wetlands. PHOTO: CECILE WILSON
By Cecile Wilson
In November, the 27th Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP 27) finally reached an agreement to establish a fund to pay “loss and damage” expenses to poorer countries suffering the extreme effects of climate change. While it remains to be seen whether richer countries will live up to this agreement and pay their share, it is a noteworthy recognition that we live in an interconnected planetary ecosystem.
This month, representatives from 196 countries are meeting in Montreal for the 15th “nature COP,” the UN Biodiversity Conference, from December 7 to 19. They are discussing a new iteration of a framework previously established by the Convention on Biological Diversity. This convention aims to “transform society’s relationship with biodiversity,” so that by 2050 we are living “in harmony with nature.” The framework proposes specific plans to slow the extinction of plants, animals and ecosystems on land and in water and to keep the average global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Recent extreme weather in Canada and around the world have driven home the danger that a destabilized climate poses risk to human life. But did you know that global warming also contributes to the extinction risk for one million species of plants and animals? Other threats to biodiversity include habitat loss through the encroachment of human activities, pollution, the overexploitation of nature and invasive alien species. The rate of extinction is tens of hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years, leading UN Secretary- General António Guterres to call the biodiversity crisis a “suicidal war against nature.”
The damage to nature does not leave humans unscathed. Biodiverse ecosystems filter air and water, provide a source of medicines and shelter and contribute to food security. The World Economic Forum rated biodiversity loss as “one of the biggest dangers we face” in its 2022 Global Risks Report, and it estimates that more than half of the world’s gross domestic product is at risk from degradation of ecosystems. Encroachment on wild/natural ecosystems also increases the risk of animal diseases being transferred to humans, leading to higher risk of pandemics. And we all know what economic and other pressures that pandemics can exert.
On the other hand, we benefit enormously from the physical, psychological, and economic benefits of healthy and diverse ecosystems. For example, a 2014 study noted in The Canadian Geographer identified urban forests, woodlands and wetlands as significant contributors to Montreal’s economy. The study calculated that the advantage of access to recreational spaces and improved air quality, among other benefits, was equivalent to $2.2 billion annually.
One of the primary targets for “nature” COP 15 is to conserve at least 30 per cent of land and water globally by 2030 and to manage those ecosystems “effectively and equitably” so that extinction decreases or even stops. Currently, Canada has protected 13.5 per cent of the land and 14 per cent of marine territory. The federal government is poised to adopt the “30 by 30” target and has allocated $2.3 billion for the protection of land across the country.
Meanwhile, Ontario prepares to remove land out of the Greenbelt, ostensibly for affordable housing, although no details have been made public. According to the Greenbelt Foundation,
the protected area impacts the quality of drinking water for more than seven million Canadians, offsets 71 million tonnes of carbon a year and supports more than 350 species of birds.
The Convention on Biological Diversity framework promises to recognize the role of Indigenous peoples in protecting biodiversity. While Indigenous people only make up five per cent of the world’s population, they manage territories that contain 80 per cent of its biodiversity. If we are to successfully transform our world into one that lives “in harmony with nature,” transferring crown lands back to Indigenous people could be a good first step.
In the meantime, you can help biodiversity on a local scale next spring by removing invasive alien plants from your property and planting native plants instead. You can also get involved with local environmental groups. Nature will thank you!
Cecile Wilson has lived in the Glebe for 21 years and is learning to identify native plants.