Before China-led talks to save species, experts stress related nature of threats
Despite efforts to mitigate biodiversity losses, the extinction of species around the globe is accelerating at unprecedented rates, climate experts have warned ahead of the largest global gathering of environmental ministers on biodiversity.
"The biggest challenge to biodiversity, of course, is climate change, and in the ocean, its evil twin, ocean acidification," Robin Craig, an environmental law professor at the University of Southern California, told China Daily.
The second part of COP15, or the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD, will be held in Montreal, Canada, from Wednesday to Dec 19.
China is the president of COP15, and China's Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu will preside over the talks at the conference, held under the theme "Ecological Civilization — Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth".
The conference will see the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which outlines what countries would need to do in the next decade or beyond to achieve the CBD's overall vision of "living in harmony with nature" by 2050.
However, various factors have prevented the targets from being met. Problems such as pollution, agricultural expansion, unsustainable hunting, the illegal wildlife trade and climate change are causing a fast decline in the natural ecosystem worldwide.
Oceans absorb human emissions of carbon dioxide. But as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increases, the oceans absorb more CO2 and subsequently become more acidic, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Ocean acidification could threaten sea life and alter human health, according to the agency.
In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, or IPBES, an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change, warned that humanity has severely altered three-quarters of the planet's land surface, and 1 million species are threatened with extinction.
The report also noted that past and ongoing declines in biodiversity will undermine countries' prospects of achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which all UN member states have pledged to meet by 2030.
"While climate change has not been the dominant driver of biodiversity loss to date, in most parts of the world, it is projected to become as or more important than the other drivers of change," Robert Watson, a past chair of the IPBES, said in 2019.
Watson highlighted the need for government departments around the world to work together, noting that the loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue but also affects economic development and security.
COP15 is taking place just weeks after COP27, the UN's Climate Change Conference held in Egypt. Although climate change is getting more attention from global leaders, there is an increasing need for integrated solutions between the two issues, experts said.
"Among other things, climate change complicates efforts to provide species and ecosystems with room to flourish because they are both shifting their ranges and rearranging their interactions as a result of warmer temperatures," Craig said.
It's imperative to get climate change under control and limit the total increase in global average temperatures to as low as possible, "for biodiversity's sake in addition to humans' own self-interest", she said.
Craig said the biggest achievement of the global community in terms of boosting biodiversity is "the many recognitions that preserving habitat is critically important".
"National and international protected areas — especially protected areas that limit human intrusion — give other species places to be," Craig said.