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The global fight against Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Written by Science

Given the biodiversity crisis faced by our planet, conservation has never been so important. Currently, we are undergoing biodiversity decline at a rate of tens to hundreds of times higher than any other time period in the last 10 million years. The International Panel of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, released a global report in 2019, which warns that one million species are threatened with extinction, many of which could disappear within the next few decades.

On a positive note, awareness and action regarding biodiversity protection have been increasing over the past thirty years or so. Governments and organisations are collaborating now more than ever to protect mother nature, through national and international policies, targets, and actions. However, we must ask the question, are we doing enough to tackle this mass extinction?

Whilst most people, who don’t live under a rock, are aware of the Paris Climate agreement, fewer people know about the equally binding targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – the Aichi targets. 196 countries, including the UK, agreed to a list of 20 targets with the aim to fulfil five strategic biodiversity goals. Each target description starts with the phrase “By 2020”, and well, here we are, in 2020.

To put it simply, no, we haven’t met the Aichi targets. In January of this year, the CBD published a draft of the 5th edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (a report which monitors the progress of the Aichi targets), wherein they stated “None of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be fully met, in turn threatening the achievement of 8 the Sustainable Development Goals.”.

To put it simply, no, we haven’t met the Aichi targets.

In 2016, WWF published a report stating that 20% of the countries involved had made zero progress towards their specific targets, and a mere 5% were on track to achieve theirs.

The Aichi targets did not completely fail, as they acted as encouragement for all countries to play their part. If we consider target 12, the prevention of extinctions of known threatened species, there is evidence to imply that we have succeeded in at least some instances. Research undertaken at Newcastle University indicates that 9 – 18 bird species and 2 – 7 mammal species would have become extinct in the last ten years if it weren’t for conservation, and it is believed that only one bird species did go extinct. Whilst a few examples of success provide an ounce of optimism, ultimately, we’ve done very badly.

Newcastle University research indicates that between 9-18 bird species and 2-7 mammal species would have become extinct in the last ten years without conservation.

We can only hope that member countries and the CBD have learnt from the failures, and will do better next time. A zero-draft for the post-2020 targets, which will supersede the Aichi targets, has already been published, and the document acknowledges that “success of the implementation of the framework will depend on learning from past experiences, successes and challenges, including the implementation of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets”.

Image: Flickr. Photograph by Jason Houston for USAID

Ultimately, much more effort is needed in global conservation of biodiversity. If we are to live in a world where humans support, rather than degrade, the natural world which supports and sustains us, global action and collaboration is vital. Biodiversity targets must be taken seriously, and those who have the power to take action, must.

Last modified: 15th April 2020

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