2020 is the year by when the rate of loss of natural habitats, including forests, should’ve been halved, as agreed in the Aichi targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ten years ago. But the reality is that not only has this ambition failed, the world is on the opposite trajectory. The global rate of tree cover loss has increased by 43 per cent since pre-2014 levels, and primary forests that are such valuable carbon sinks are being lost at an alarming rate. Carbon emissions from tropical tree cover loss alone are equivalent to the total greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union. Habitat loss is one of the chief reasons behind wildlife loss, and monitored forest vertebrate populations have more than halved between 1970 and 2014, on average.
Government representatives are gathered in Rome this week to start negotiations on a new Global Biodiversity Framework, which will become the new yardstick for global action and ambition in the fight against biodiversity loss. Given the current context and that bold and necessary efforts to change business-as-usual are lacking, the parties to the Convention should be under enormous pressure to deliver a framework with actionable targets. The goals and targets that have been proposed and will be discussed this week won’t move the needle in saving our forests because they neither sufficiently address the major threats to forest biodiversity, nor do they provide adequate incentives to elevate forest conservation, restoration and sustainable management on the political agenda.
In this new decade, there is an urgent need for transformative change to ensure nature continues to provide valuable services. It is crucial that a new Global Biodiversity Framework include the following:
- Strong forest targets and indicators: The proposed goals and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework’s Zero Draft do not differentiate between specific ecosystems but refer more generally to “freshwater, marine and terrestrial” ecosystems. While this cross-sectoral approach may make sense from a biological perspective, it lacks concrete, ecosystem-specific political mandates for action. This can be addressed by referencing relevant existing targets and including indicators which have been previously approved by other relevant Conventions, UN bodies or international partnerships. When it comes to forests, the Global Biodiversity Framework should encourage and reinforce ongoing implementation efforts of goals and targets, such as the Global Forest Goals of the United Nations Framework on Forests (UNFF) or the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF). Agreed indicators for these targets should be integrated into a new monitoring framework. Forest indicators should especially encourage conservation of stable and intact forests, given their intrinsic value for biodiversity and climate, and differentiate between net and gross forest loss.
- Address drivers of forest biodiversity loss: Although there are important inclusions on sustainable exploitation and invasive species, the draft document of the Global Biodiversity Framework is not strong enough on addressing the biggest threats to forest biodiversity: Habitat loss and degradation caused by agriculture and logging as well as climate change. It is critical to have a strong goal on reducing the negative footprint of consumption and production to drive action that addresses the biggest threats to biodiversity. WWF is calling for a goal through which the negative footprint of consumption and production is halved by 2030. This needs to be complemented by targets that ensure that management and production systems for timber and agricultural commodities are sustainable and free of ecosystem conversion, deforestation and degradation. At the same time, the Global Biodiversity Framework needs to send a strong signal that emission reductions from all sources, land- and fossil-based, are urgently needed, as climate change is an increasing threat to forest biodiversity. Take the recent catastrophic wildfires around the world as an example, many of which were exasperated by drier and hotter conditions.
- Ambitious target on finance and resource mobilization: Most of the vulnerable primary forests and natural ecosystems are located in developing countries. Yet, investments in stopping deforestation in tropical countries comprise less than 1.5 per cent of the support to climate change mitigation. Trees in forests and forest lands are currently seen as worth more when logged or converted. Transparent, increased and predictable finance must be stipulated under a new Global Biodiversity Framework to incentivize sustainable agriculture and ensure effective protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests and other natural ecosystems. A significant share of this finance should be allocated to promote biodiversity efforts of the most vulnerable but at the same time most important stewards of nature, such as Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs).
- A focus on forest quality not just quantity: We need to urgently have a better recognition of the status of biodiversity below the canopy. Using hectares as a proxy for biodiversity, as was done in the past, is insufficient as it neglects the many important factors that determine whether standing forests retain their wildlife or whether newly restored forests become rich in biodiversity. Consequently, a new Global Biodiversity Framework should include a measure on forest quality in addition to quantity (forest cover change). The Forest Specialist Index (FSI), or ‘Living Planet Index (Forest Specialists)’, developed by WWF, ZSL and UNEP-WCMC, offers a tool to do so by tracking the status of the world’s forest specialist vertebrate populations. While appreciating the fact that the FSI has already found its way into the draft monitoring framework of the Global Biodiversity Framework under Target 5 (harvesting, use and trade of wild species), we recommend using the Index under Target 1 or 2 (or equivalent in future drafts), which focus on extent, connectivity, integrity and protection of ecosystems, including forests, to ensure we have healthy forests full of life.
- Inspiring target on ecosystem restoration: If we are to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss, the new Framework should include a target as well as indicators for ecosystem restoration. WWF calls for a goal that by 2030, 50 per cent of areas of degraded ecosystems are restored. The period 2021-2030 will be the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and is aimed at restoring degraded and destroyed ecosystems, contributing to efforts to combat climate change and safeguarding biodiversity, food security, and water supply. The Decade will further build on successful international and regional restoration initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) or the Initiative 20x20. It would therefore be a missed opportunity, both for biodiversity and the UN Decade, if a new Global Biodiversity Framework does not include a strong restoration target.
- Unlock the potential of nature and biodiversity for climate change mitigation: There is a growing body of evidence on the positive contribution of forest biodiversity for climate – for instance, the carbon locked in forests would decline if large birds and primates were lost. Recent studies make a strong case for protecting stable forests, including intact forest landscapes, which are responsible for a large portion of carbon storage in forests globally and are undervalued sinks. The role of ecosystems, including forests, for climate and biodiversity needs to be more strongly represented in the new Global Biodiversity Framework. Ecosystem-based approaches for climate change mitigation and adaptation need to be center stage. Targets need to ensure that the role of forests as existing and future natural carbon sinks is maximised.
The negotiation of a new Global Biodiversity Framework under the CBD provides an important opportunity to take meaningful action on protecting and restoring nature. But business as usual needs to change if world leaders are serious about achieving the vision for 2050 of living in harmony with nature. It’s time to learn from failures of the past and recognize the important value of forests for all of us.