Humanity at a crossroads, UN warns in new Global Biodiversity Outlook report

written by Oceanographic Staff

The latest Global Biodiversity Outlook report (GBO-5), which offers an authoritative overview of the state of nature, has been published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Despite encouraging progress in several areas, the natural world is suffering badly and getting worse. The report outlines eight major transitions needed to slow, then halt nature’s accelerating decline. Additionally, it confirms that of the 20 global Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010, only six were even partially achieved by the 2020 deadline.

The report comes as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges people to rethink their relationship with nature, and to consider the profound consequences to their own wellbeing and survival that can result from continued biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems.

UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report (GBO-5)

“This flagship report underlines that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations,'” said CBD Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema. “Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged. Nevertheless, the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.”

The GBO-5 report outlines a need to shift away from “business as usual” across a range of human activities. It outlines eight transitions that recognise the value of biodiversity, the need to restore the ecosystems on which all human activity depends, and the urgency of reducing the negative impacts of such activity.

The eight transitions include:

  • The land and forests transition: conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems, combatting and reversing degradation, and employing landscape level spatial planning to avoid, reduce and mitigate land-use change.
  • The sustainable agriculture transition: redesigning agricultural systems through agroecological and other innovative approaches to enhance productivity while minimising negative impacts on biodiversity.
  • The sustainable food systems transition: enabling sustainable and healthy diets with a greater emphasis on a diversity of foods, mostly plant-based, and more moderate consumption of meat and fish, as well as dramatic cuts in the waste involved in food supply and consumption.
  • The sustainable fisheries and oceans transition: protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, rebuilding fisheries and managing aquaculture and other uses of the oceans to ensure sustainability, and to enhance food security and livelihoods.
  • The cities and infrastructure transition: deploying “green infrastructure” and making space for nature within built landscapes to improve the health and quality of life for citizens and to reduce the environmental footprint of cities and infrastructure.
  • The sustainable freshwater transition: an integrated approach guaranteeing the water flows required by nature and people, improving water quality, protecting critical habitats, controlling invasive species and safeguarding connectivity to allow the recovery of freshwater systems from mountains to coasts.
  • The sustainable climate action transition: employing nature-based solutions, alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, to reduce the scale and impacts of climate change, while providing positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainable development goals.
  • The biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition: managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people.
UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report (GBO-5)

“As nature degrades, new opportunities emerge for the spread to humans and animals of devastating diseases like this year’s coronavirus,” said Mrema. The window of time available is short, but the pandemic has also demonstrated that transformative changes are possible when they must be made. The decisions and level of action we take now will have profound consequences – for good or ill – for all species, including ours.”

The GBO5 brings together the huge amount of evidence documenting biodiversity’s global decline, based on an extensive range of sources. The consistent thread throughout the report is that there is an urgent need to act to slow and end further loss. It also highlights some examples of proven measures available to help achieve the world’s agreed vision: “Living in harmony with nature” by 2050, such as extinctions prevented by conservation, more land and oceans protected, fish stocks bounce back in well-managed fisheries.

“As we emerge from the immediate impacts of the pandemic,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, “we have an unprecedented opportunity to ‘build back better’, incorporating the transitions outlined in this Outlook and embodied in an ambitious plan to put the world on track to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Part of this new agenda must be to tackle the twin global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in a more coordinated manner, understanding both that climate change threatens to undermine all other efforts to conserve biodiversity; and that nature itself offers some of the most effective solutions to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet.”

Photographs by Amanda Cotton and the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, courtesy of The Ocean Agency.

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