© Elizabeth Maruma Mrema

The Convention on Biological Diversity: Looking beyond 2020

13 July 2020

This article originally appeared in The Circle: A New Deal for the Arctic. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) arose from a growing recognition that our natural world is an asset we need to conserve. With 196 parties, the multilateral agreement aims to protect biodiversity, ensure ecosystems are used sustainably and share the benefits of diversity equally between nations.

At its next governing body’s conference, the CBD will set out its actions for the coming decade in a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The Circle spoke to executive secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema to find out why the agreement is still relevant and how it can protect biodiversity in the years ahead.

How has the CBD evolved over the past 30 years?

Its objectives have remained the same, but the Convention has evolved in response to developments, such as new insights into nature and its contribution to people. Our 10-year strategic plan on biodiversity and biodiversity targets is now in its last year, and 2020 concludes the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity. But that doesn’t mean our biodiversity problems have been sorted out. All indications suggest that most of the targets have not been met at the global level, notwithstanding some important successes at the national and regional levels. We need to continue to focus on biodiversity. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework will be a steppingstone to our long-term vision of living in harmony with nature.

How much focus does the new framework have on Arctic biodiversity?

The Arctic is what I call “undisturbed and unchartered waters,” and it’s important to maintain that richness.

We are looking to the Arctic to see how changes there may affect the rest of the world—and what happens will contribute immensely to all aspects of the post-2020 biodiversity framework.

The Arctic is changing much more quickly than the global average. Not only will this have disastrous effects on species and ecosystems—it also means we are likely to see more human activity in this vulnerable region. We hope we can avoid a disastrous tipping point in the Arctic.

What actions should we be taking in the Arctic?

As parts of the Arctic become more accessible, businesses will see opportunities for economic development. But we have seen over and over again that jumping into economic development without considering ecological inputs and developing proper safeguards is short-sighted. It might end up costing the region dearly in the long term. Clearly, the region needs to look at preventing such impacts and degradation. We have a chance to embed sustainability and environmental responsibility in the industries being developed before things get out of hand.

What role do you think Arctic nations need to play in protecting biodiversity?

The Arctic is home to an incredibly unique confluence of species, ecosystems, people, culture and human activities—and all of these are extremely vulnerable to a wide range of stressors. For example, consider the agreement to prevent and regulate high-seas fisheries in the central Arctic. To us, that was a major achievement, as it was a legally binding precautionary approach to protect the region from commercial fishing before it even began. Likewise, we know that the protected areas recently designated by the governments of Canada and Russia are major achievements. But we need to see positive steps like these replicated in other Arctic nations and sectors to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the Arctic, its species and its people.

Looking to the post-pandemic period, how much focus do you anticipate there will be on protecting the environment—and biodiversity in particular?

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown the world into a state of uncertainty and fear. Countries are focused on protecting their citizens, and we’re in solidarity with that. But it has also become clear that to avoid future pandemics, we need to look to nature. When the crisis ends, we will have an opportunity to build on the temporary environmental benefits we’ve seen—such as improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gases—and rethink our relationship with the natural world. As governments work on economic recovery and stimulus packages, we hope they will offer sustainable approaches to development. The bottom line is that economic development can only be sustainable in the long term if it does not undermine the services, functions and resources that nature provides.