This is a guest post by Megan Brayne, a lawyer and director of Comhar Group, a legal and policy advisory firm specialising in native title, environment and planning and climate change law. Megan has recently returned from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Bonn, Germany.
In May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) quietly released its Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (the Report).
IPBES is an independent intergovernmental body established by 130 nations (including Australia) in 2012 to provide governments with objective scientific information about biodiversity and ecosystem health. The Report did not receive much attention when it was released because it couldn’t compete in the news cycle with the birth of royal baby Archie on the same day.
The Report finds that of the eight million animal and plant species on earth, around a million are currently threatened with extinction. That’s more than 40% of amphibians, a third of reef forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals globally.
Nearly 10% of domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with 1000 more breeds still threatened which means the pool of genetic variation which underpins food security has declined.
Astoundingly, the Report is the first intergovernmental report on biodiversity and ecosystems that takes into account indigenous knowledge.
At the same time that natural wonders such as Niagra Falls were lit up blue in honour of baby Archie, the Report announced that current trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 35 of the 44 targets of the sustainable development goals. Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems is not just an environmental issue, it is an economic, security, social and moral issue as well.
The world’s population has doubled in the last 50 years. We are presented with difficult tensions between the food production and energy and infrastructure expansion needed to raise the living standards of the global population on the one hand, and climate change mitigation, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation on the other.
The Report highlights this tension, confirming that the earth provides more food, energy and natural materials than ever before, however this comes at the expense of other ecosystem services that we don’t ordinarily quantify including air, water and soil quality, crop pollination and carbon sequestration.
In other words, humans are increasing one set of benefits of nature (the production of food and resources) at the expense of other benefits that create sustainability (clean air and water, good quality soil, crop pollination and carbon sequestration). It’s a Catch-22.
The Report has complicated implications for how we deal with climate change. A few weeks ago, in June 2019, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Bonn, Germany to work on the rules to implement the Paris Agreement and other climate change matters.
IPBES held a special event during the proceedings. IPBES scientists emphasised that there are trade-offs between trying to mitigate climate change and conserving biodiversity. IPBES scientists pleaded with climate change negotiators to stop trying to achieve climate change mitigation at the expense of biodiversity and ecosystems.
In doing so, they emphasised lessons to be taken from land-sector emissions reduction such as reforestation and bioenergy cropping. These mechanisms might present an effective means of sequestering carbon emissions, but if they negatively impact biodiversity and ecosystems they’ll negatively impact the sustainable development goals.
This conundrum is at the heart of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which specifically discusses sustainable development and prioritises it in mechanisms such as those under Article 6 (cooperative approaches to market mechanisms).
Last year, the Northern Territory released its discussion paper on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Opportunities for the Northern Territory, [https://haveyoursay.nt.gov.au/39757/documents/88860] which mentions the negative impact a changing climate will have on biodiversity and ecosystems.
However the Northern Territory discussion paper is scant on the potential for climate change mitigation to compete with biodiversity and ecosystems and how competing aims should be prioritised.
Taking the IPBES approach, arguably the global standard set out in the Report, the Northern Territory’s policy needs to explicitly address climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem maintenance on an equal footing rather than prioritise one over the other. The dangers facing our natural world, through climate change and biodiversity loss is a holistic equation, rather than a series of compartmentalised problems with discrete solutions.
The people of the Northern Territory deserve biodiversity and ecosystems to be prioritised in the race to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. This applies to policy settings as well as approaches taken to carbon and biodiversity offsetting. And that would be a royally good outcome indeed.
The summary for policy makers is here: https://www.ipbes.net/news/ipbes-global-assessment-summary-policymakers-pdf and the full report is here. https://www.ipbes.net/global-assessment-biodiversity-ecosystem-services