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Cambridge University Science Magazine
The world has failed to meet any of the 20 biodiversity targets set a decade ago, according to a recent UN report[1] on the state of global biodiversity.

Agreed by 196 states at a 2010 meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan, the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets set clear goals for stemming the tide of biodiversity loss, tackling its drivers and implementing preventative policies. They were all intended to have been met by the end of 2020, which marks the end of the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020). However, not one of these targets has been achieved, according to the fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook, a periodic review of the state of biological diversity.

This is not the first time such failure has been on the cards. In 2010, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, the third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook[2] announced the failure to meet the first global biodiversity target, which had been set back in 2002. The report cited a failure to tackle the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss as a key factor.

Fast forward by a decade and reading the fifth edition of the same report feels like déjà vu: ‘indicators ... relating to the drivers of biodiversity loss, and to the current state of biodiversity itself, mostly show significantly worsening trends’.

To monitor progress towards the 20 broad Aichi Targets, each one was broken down into separate elements. Of these 60 elements, seven have been achieved and 38 show positive progress. 13 show no progress or a move away from the target, and, for two elements, progress is unknown. Those which tell a more positive story are the elements relating to policies or actions which support biodiversity, such as designating protected areas. Frustratingly, it is the underlying drivers of biodiversity decline and measures of the state of global biodiversity which show negative trends, the very elements highlighted in the report a decade ago.

The latest UN report was the third in a single week to highlight global failures to tackle the biodiversity crisis. The RSPB published a reported titled ‘A lost decade for nature’[3], in which they assessed the majority of the UK Government’s own biodiversity indicators as ‘deteriorating over the long-term’. The Living Planet Report 2020[4], published jointly by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, adopted a more hopeful subtitle, ‘Bending the Curve of Biodiversity Loss’. Its headline analysis, however, still concluded that vertebrate population sizes showed an average decrease of 68% between 1970 and 2016.

Away from institutional reports, Sir David Attenborough has added to the volume of biodiversity crisis-related news with a new BBC documentary, Extinction: The Facts, in which he asserts that the decline of biodiversity ‘isn’t just disturbing, it’s deeply tragic’.

Collectively, this makes for a sobering backdrop to the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting of the CBD, originally planned for October of this year, but rescheduled to May 2021, in Kunming, China. Under ‘business as usual’ scenarios, current biodiversity trends are projected to continue to beyond 2050, but decision makers at COP 15 hope to turn this tide with the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, a stepping stone to the UN’s 2050 Vision for Biodiversity, which aims to create a world where we ‘live in harmony with nature’. Draft proposals for the Kunming meeting[5] set out five long-term goals for 2050, each with an associated target for 2030, in an attempt to learn from the failed 2002 and Aichi Targets.

Declaring 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the UN is aiming to repair degraded and destroyed ecosystems, and, ultimately, bend the curve of biodiversity loss. Available evidence suggests it is not too late to reverse current trends, so if ever ‘third time’s the charm’ is to prove true, this had better be it.

Kate Howlett is a PhD student at the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge,

  1. [BACK] Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal (2020)
  2. [BACK] Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. Montreal (2010)
  3. [BACK] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. A lost decade for nature. (2020)
  4. [BACK] WWF. Living Planet Report 2020 - Bending the curve of biodiversity loss. Almond, R.E.A., Grooten M. and Petersen, T. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland. (2020)
  5. [BACK] Convention on Biological Diversity. Zero Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. (2020)