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UN biodiversity summit ‘could help avoid potential mass extinction event’

The summit aims to finalise a framework to protect 30 per cent of global land and ocean areas by 2030

Saphora Smith
Climate Correspondent
Tuesday 13 December 2022 17:12 GMT
Cop15 is being held in Montreal, in Canada.
Cop15 is being held in Montreal, in Canada. (AFP via Getty Images)

The outcome of the United Nations biodiversity conference in Montreal this week could have implications for thousands of years and help avoid a potential mass extinction event, the chair of Natural England has said.

“The next few days couldn’t be more significant in laying the foundations to avoid what is potentially a mass extinction event,” Tony Juniper told journalists during a briefing from the UN biodiversity summit, Cop15, on Tuesday. “The complexity behind the talks that are going on here do have real-world consequences.”

The summit. which is being held in Canada from 7 to 19 December. aims to finalise an agreement to protect 30 per cent of global land and ocean areas by 2030, among other goals. The consequences of degrading or protecting the natural world are not just about endangered species but also have implications for food and water security, and the ability to meet goals to limit and adapt to global heating, he said.

“I don’t think it’s overstating the situation to say that the next week here will potentially have implications that will last for thousands of years because extinction is irreversible,” Mr Juniper told reporters.

The chair of Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment, said he hoped countries would make progress toward achieving a global biodiversity framework that would galvanise action from individual countries toward nature recovery.

The UK has already pledged to protect 30 per cent of land and sea, and halt species decline by 2030.

Mr Juniper described this as a “work in progress,” and said the country plans to do this partly through a network of protected areas. There were also opportunities within the new agricultural policy, to help landscapes recover, and projects already underway by individual landowners who are rewilding their land, as well as private sector contributions.

“How we add all of that up, still needs to be worked through,” he said. “But there is a lot of ambition.”

Asked about whether protections for Marine Protected Areas were sufficient, Mr Juniper said the question now centres around the compatibility of food and energy production  - such as fishing and offshore wind - with conservation, he said.

“I’m confident that over the coming few years, we’ll be able to piece together, something that can add up to 30 per cent,” he said of both land and sea.

Mr Juniper also expressed optimism that businesses attending the conference were looking for frameworks that can help them to adopt “nature positive” strategies.

Tony Juniper is chair of Natural England (Defra)

He said he thought biodiversity was about five to ten years behind climate change in terms of it being a priority for companies but said he thought this could be the point at which embedding nature into business strategy becomes mainstream.

“We will hopefully begin to see the rise of ‘nature positive’ alongside net zero as a real organising principle for the private sector,” he said.  “The penny is finally dropping that this is a real business case - there’s risk and opportunity and managing that makes business sense.”

The conference comes after Cop27 in Egypt last month, during which countries agreed to establish a fund to compensate vulnerable nations for climate destruction in a major breakthrough for nations on the frontlines of the crisis.

Despite this success, the summit was also widely seen to have failed to make meaningful progress to cut planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions.

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