In the rising pace of human development in the unfolding anthropocene, the COVID19 crisis showed us again how crucial nature is for humanity’s well-being and survival. Nature is key to sustain a habitable climate. Healthy ecosystems supply the life supporting function we all depend on. Nature is the biodiverse existence of life that makes this planet a special home to all of us. For large parts of humanity nature is shelter, it often is the direct supplier of livelihood security, and it defines home and the cultural identity for many. On the contrary, for cities and elites of the global north the excessive exploitation of natural resources is the basis of our luxury. The brighter humanity shines, the faster we seem to burn the ground we stand on.
Opening the last climate conference in Madrid, UN Secretary-General Gutteres warned: “The war against nature must stop“. 2020 was supposed to become a political “super year” to revive the insufficient efforts to protect biodiversity and mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis. But it was also intended to be a year to boost synergies between the climate and biodiversity agenda to revive the multilateral processes with collective and collaborative action under the guidance of the United Nations. The now postponed UNCBD COP15 biodiversity conference in China will have to deliver nothing less than a human answer to stop the undergoing 6th mass extinction of species. An ambitious goal set under a rights-based approach, sufficient financing and resource mobilisation and robust implementation mechanisms must be the answer to the dire warning of the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’s (IPBES) global assessment report from last year. The dangers of zoonotic diseases should be a key motivating factor to invest in biodiversity protection and reshape our interaction with nature.
The expansion of Industrial agriculture and forestry and the exploitation of the seas are key threats to biodiversity. But also the climate crisis is a dangerous threat to the diversity of life – as it is to us humans. Biomes shift with the changing climatic conditions. And without the long established interactions that form natural and healthy ecosystems, we are much less prepared to mitigate future climate and weather extremes and adapt to their already severe impacts. Natural and healthy ecosystems are key to increase human adaptive capacity and the resilience of human communities. And human efforts to restore and enhance ecosystem resilience can mitigate climate change, too. The next decade is therefore dedicated to the restoration of the world’s ecosystems by the UN.
The postponed climate conference of nations under the UNFCCC in Glasgow was going to put the Paris Agreement to a test under unfavorable preconditions. As collective climate action is just as good as the sum of its parts, it would have been a challenge to find the nations of the world present nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that align us on a path to 1.5° global mean average temperature increase – a benchmark that could be reached soon under recent predictions by the World Meteorological Organization. How historically high emitters like the EU will signal their ambition, will define any hope for others to step up under tensening geo-political dynamics. Without leadership of these privileged states through real emission cuts and sufficiently dedicated resources to support especially vulnerable societies, a regrowing commitment to multilateral efforts is going to be hard to mobilize on the road to Glasgow next year. Adaptation funding and investments must be ramped up to support the weakest in growing disruptions from catastrophic weather extremes and other climate impacts.
Towards the big political moments in 2020, nature was starting to be framed as the silver bullet to climate mitigation with many calling for more trees and a vast increase of nature based carbon emission offset schemes. Trees are beautiful and we need more to decrease the massive level of carbon dioxide excess in the atmosphere. But if we plant vast plantations to offset continuous emissions we shoot ourselves in the foot. Trees take time to grow – time we do not have. The permanence of carbon stored in trees is not secured, bioenergy schemes with continuous emissions are a false solution and industrial tree plantations drive up an unsustainable demand for land that will result in conflict and repression. So yes, we must let forests grow and restore ecosystems on a massive scale together with those that call them their home. We need to do so to adapt to the climate crisis and sequester carbon dioxide – but in addition to drastic emission cuts in all sectors and not as cheap offset loopholes.
The EU under the German EU presidency now has a key role to keep up the intended momentum for the global biodiversity and climate agenda towards 2021. As intended, the negotiations under the Convention of Biological Diversity (UNCBD) should be used to build bridges with China to lead on a global deal on nature protection in 2021. This collective effort must also define the natural boundaries to more climate ambition in Glasgow. But to do so, the EU must lead on their national ambition first.
A German coal exit in the current EU presidency’s country by 2038 is unacceptable and a bad signal to others. The EU 2030 climate goal must be 65% emission reductions to be ambitious in the light of increasing fireweather in different parts of the planet. Further, the EU climate law must not allow emission reductions outside the EU to reach its climate targets. And an EU position to extend international carbon markets under the Paris Agreement would threaten its integrity. It would create loopholes for the rich high emitters to continue business as usual – contrary to any climate justice ambition.
The presented EU Biodiversity Strategy must serve as a prime example of how future ambition under the next CBD goal can look like – especially on how to protect 30% of land and sea area by 2030. But it can only succeed, if the environmental agenda is not addressed in its silo any longer, but is also reflected in the stronger regulation of forestry, fishing and farming practices too. The green recovery money and the future EU budget must not be spent on the drivers of destruction of the past, but on ecological footprint reductions and green innovation for the future.
International responsibility and solidarity knows no borders. The EU must therefore address its extra-territorial emissions and the negative impacts of their supply chains. The external social and environmental costs must be taken into account as neglecting them supports the extractivist agendas in other countries. The drivers of environmental destruction must not be supported nor must the goods that drive the destruction be traded any longer. Corporations have failed and therefore the corporate sector needs to be regulated and trade policy needs an overhaul to fall in line with politically agreed sustainability, biodiversity and climate goals. The currently negotiated EU-Mercosur trade agreement is for the bin, as it torpedoes any climate and biodiversity ambition.
The burden on the EU to lead on the global prevention efforts to the climate and biodiversity crisis might seem irrelevant to some in times of a pandemic or the resulting recession. But we got to protect what protects us. Real emission cuts and the restoration of ecosystems are needed now. Nature is our best ally in the prevention of more zoonotic diseases and the emerging climate crisis.