Loss of Biodiversity Undermines Global Efforts to Tackle Poverty, Hunger, FAO Says

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In a video address to the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity on Wednesday, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), QU Dongyu, says the loss of biodiversity undermines global efforts to tackle poverty and hunger.

According to him, ‘’no biodiversity, no food diversity’’, pointing out that biodiversity underpins most of the world’s economic activities, particularly in the agri-food sector, so the pace of its erosion must be contrasted with holistic, coherent and collective efforts.

The summit was however, convened by the President of the General Assembly at the level of Heads of State and Government under the theme: Urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development.

Societies are intimately linked with and depend on biodiversity. Biodiversity is essential for people, including through its provision of nutritious food, clean water, medicines, and protection from extreme events.

Biodiversity loss and the degradation of its contributions to people jeopardize progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and human wellbeing. The evidence of these connections is clear.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of the relationship between people and nature. We are reminded that when we destroy and degrade biodiversity, we undermine the web of life and increase the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to people.

Responses to the pandemic provide a unique opportunity for transformative change as a global community. An investment in the health of our planet is an investment in our own future.

The summit highlighted the crisis facing humanity from the degradation of biodiversity and the urgent need to accelerate action on biodiversity for sustainable development. It will provide an opportunity for Heads of State and Government and other leaders to raise ambition for the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2021.

This framework, and its effective implementation, must put nature on a path to recovery by 2030 to meet the SDGs and realize the Vision of “Living in harmony with nature”.

As the world approaches the end of the UN Decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020, progress towards global biodiversity targets including those of the SDGs has been insufficient. While there are many local examples of success, biodiversity is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, with growing impacts on people and our planet.

Recent assessments by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concluded that species extinction rates are tens to hundreds of times higher now than historical averages, that: 75% of the Earth’s land surface has been significantly altered by human actions, including for example the loss of 85% of the area of wetlands, and 66% of the ocean area is experiencing multiple impacts from people, including from fisheries, pollution, and chemical changes from acidification.

The 75th anniversary of the UN, the start of the UN decade of action and delivery on SDGs, and the UN Decades on ecosystem restoration and on ocean science for sustainable development, among others, provide additional context for the Summit. Together, they remind us of the urgent need to recognize our dependence on a healthy planet and to work together for transformative change.

The summit was an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and commitment to improve relationship with nature, addressing the causes of change, and ensuring that biodiversity and the contributions it provides to all people are at the heart of sustainable development and the fight against climate change

In the mean time, Qu spoke on behalf of several UN agencies and represented the United Nations system while participating in a Leaders Dialogue on how to mainstream biodiversity issues into the broader drive for sustainable development.

The panel was co-chaired by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, while interventions were made by more than a dozen heads of government or state from countries such as Belize, Kyrgyzstan and Zambia, along with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay and the heads of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Parliamentary Union and WWF International.

The summit aimed to galvanise and accelerate concrete commitments and action at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in Kunming, China, in 2021, where members should adopt the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

The sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits from biodiversity are critical for delivery of 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Moreover, some 70 percent of drugs used for cancer are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how degraded biodiversity undermines the web of life and increases the risk of disease spillovers from wildlife to people.

Joining the call for urgent action, FAO’s Director-General emphasized the “need to radically transform our economies and behaviors to make sure that they are inclusive, green and sustainable.”

He emphasized the important links between this summit and the UN Food Systems Summit to be held next year, noting that the futures of our agri-food systems and biodiversity are mutually dependent on transforming the former as well as “reverence of nature” adding that “It is time to bridge our agendas.”

Today, only nine crop species supply nearly 66 percent of total global crop production, while only eight domesticated mammalian and avian species provide more than 95 percent of the human food supply from livestock, according to FAO’s extensive work on biodiversity. Reliance on such a narrow set of resources reduces natural insurance effects and weakens the resilience of food security over the long run.

Aimed at practicing what they recommend, UN agencies are mainstreaming biodiversity across their internal operations, programmes and policies and supports members in doing the same, with an eye on green development strategies, disaster risk management and the implementation of international agreements and policies to ensure food security, livelihoods and sustainability, the Director-General said.

Restoration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the use of nature-based solutions, conservation of genetic species and natural resources, green and blue finance, sustainable value changes and changing consumption and production patterns are priority areas for action, he added.

Serious acceleration is required. Today, for example, FAO is engaged in land restoration, notably with the Great Green Wall Initiative. But globally, restoration activities cover only 2 percent of the more than two  billion hectares of currently degraded land requiring restoration to enhance biodiversity, ecosystem service and agricultural productivity, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

On the action front, FAO is a member of the UN Environment Management Group providing inputs for the framework to be launched in Kunming.

On the knowledge front, FAO recently produced the first-ever benchmark report, The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. Among other findings, it highlighted that while national reports confirm that 24 percent of nearly 4, 000 wild food species are decreasing in abundance, there is no data for another 61 percent, signaling that we have evidence of sustainability for fewer than one in six.

On the policy front, a new FAO report suggests how an ecosystem-based management approach requires innovation – for example, breeding crops with an eye to their interaction with other crops to improve soil health, reduce the use of toxins in pest management and cope with climate change.

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