A new deal for nature and people globally is a win for the Arctic, too
6 July 2020
The Arctic is at the hard edge of many of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Global warming, melting sea ice and ocean pollution all have direct implications for Arctic biodiversity as well as for communities that rely on nature’s services for everything from cultural identities to livelihoods.
The threats to the Arctic are part of a larger trend in the decline of life on Earth. In fact, in the last 40 years, we have seen a 60 per cent decline in species populations worldwide. Nature is in the red, and we don’t yet know the full implications. But we do know that we cannot continue to destroy habitat, pollute our oceans and destabilize our climate if we expect to continue to benefit from ecosystem services. The world’s population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. To ensure we have enough food, water, fresh air, and a stable climate for so many people, we must protect and restore our natural world and the biodiversity that underpins our very existence.
Unchecked, the acceleration of nature loss threatens us all. The global pandemic has made it abundantly clear that business, as usual, isn’t working. There is strong evidence linking habitat destruction and illegal trade in high-risk species to pathogens that jump from animals to people. For example, scientists suspect the COVID-19 virus may have jumped from a bat by way of a pangolin. To safeguard humankind against future pandemics, we must reduce the opportunities that viruses have to make such leaps. This means halting any further losses of habitat and species.
The Arctic may be remote, but it is far from immune to the many factors causing catastrophic declines in species worldwide. Habitat loss, poaching, pollution and unsustainable development are direct drivers challenging Arctic biodiversity. For example, Pacific walrus are losing their homes as sea ice retreats and forces them onto land, where they are threatened by other species, such as humans. Unimpeded climate change could cause the loss of more than 30 per cent of the world’s polar bears by 2050.
Over the next 12 months, critical decisions will be made that affect biodiversity, the oceans, the climate and development. Together, these represent a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure a New Deal for Nature and People—one that supports the transition to a world that is “Nature Positive by 2030” and unites people to preserve, protect and renew our relationship with nature and biodiversity.
To become nature positive, we urgently need to protect our planet’s remaining natural spaces and bend the curve on biodiversity loss. We must also move to a sustainable consumption and production model that rebalances our relationship with the natural world and limits global warming to 1.5°C. We must halve our production and consumption footprint and transition to sustainable agriculture, forestry, fishing, extractives and infrastructure as part of a wider effort to build a world that supports nature and people.
For all of that to happen, we need good governance, leadership and recognition of the problems globally—and Arctic nations should be leading the way. This year has proven how vulnerable we are as a species. While it has been necessary to postpone important global meetings on the environment until 2021, we must not lose the momentum for action on nature. We need world leaders to demonstrate ambition and accelerate movement. We must learn from this crisis by recognising the value of sustainable practices and heeding the call to a nature-positive world and a New Deal for Nature and People.
GAVIN EDWARDS is the global coordinator of the New Deal for Nature & People at WWF International. He is based in the UK.
On the cusp of a renewal of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10-year strategy, Martin Sommerkorn and Melanie Lancaster say it’s important to identify what can and should be achieved in the Arctic in the next decade to benefit nature and people. Is it all that different from what needs to be done elsewhere?