As 196 governments prepare for negotiations on global action to halt biodiversity loss at COP15 in Montreal, Canada, experts warn that it might take 80 rather than eight years to effectively reverse it. 

COP15 negotiators might set “unrealistic” targets that risk undermining global action on biodiversity conservation, scientists have warned.

The UN biodiversity conference, set to commence this Wednesday in Montreal, Canada, will see representatives from 196 countries discuss ways to guide global action on biodiversity. Campaigners have called for a deal inspired by the landmark Paris Agreement signed in 2015 to tackle global warming.  

According to a draft agreement published earlier this year, the summit’s goal is to set a landmark agreement to coordinate countries on meaningful steps needed to “halt and reverse biodiversity loss” and “put nature on a path to recovery” by 2030 and have people live “in harmony with nature and Mother Earth” by 2050.

Biodiversity collapse is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our lifetime, with a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) suggesting that wild animal populations have declined 69% since 1970. The degradation of ecosystems and loss of species have become so alarming that in 2017, scientists referred to the situation as a “biological annihilation”, with many of them saying that the Earth is entering its sixth mass extinction event.

Biodiversity loss is happening at such a rapid rate that it is likely to take at least 80 years (rather than 8) to “bend the curve,” says David Obura from Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO), a Kenya-based non-profit organisation.

“It takes time for organisms to grow, especially large-bodied ones like trees or large herbivores that have a big impact on system dynamics,” Obura explains. “It can take 100 years or more for an ecosystem to really go through successional stages that matter, to get to an end point that counts for what we want.”

Scientists are also warning of the repercussions of biodiversity loss on climate change, describing the current situation as a two-fold crisis. On the one hand, climate change is threatening wildlife and habitats on which millions of people and species rely. On the other hand, however, biodiversity has some truly remarkable benefits for human life and the survival of our planet, from carbon sequestration and weather events regulation to the protection of food security, meaning that losing it only further exacerbates the climate crisis.

WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said the “stakes are high and time is running out” for saving biodiversity.

“As nature disappears, our leaders are playing for time we don’t have, risking catastrophic consequences for people, planet and the economy. Our world needs strong leadership at COP15 in Montreal, and commitment to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030”

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