Last chance to protect the web of life?

Biodiversity is the web of life – what may be termed a worldwide nature web – of which human beings are an integral part. It encompasses life forms from the tiniest micro-organisms to the largest mammals, on and in the earth, in water, in air.

There has long been concern at the loss of species consequent upon human activities. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES, which came into force in 1975, aims to control the trade in wildlife and plants, to prevent their extinction. An international treaty, it covers everything from animals to medicines to the wood used in musical instruments.

Yet our destructive exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources has only accelerated since the 1970s. Unsustainable farming and fishing activities, industrial and agricultural pollution, destruction of habitats, degrading of land and water, global heating, and the spread of alien species – all have taken their toll. 

The pace and level of destruction are deeply disturbing: Up to one million species are thought to be on the verge of extinction. And bear in mind that we have no idea of the true extent of the Earth’s resources, and therefore of what we may be about to lose. Scientists at the UK’s Royal Botanic Garden note that while 140,000 species of fungi have been “discovered”, between two and five million remain to be identified. That is quite some uncertainty, among species that yielded penicillin to name but one inestimable benefit.

UN Convention and the Earth Summit

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), one outcome of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, aims to conserve biodiversity, secure its sustainable use and ensure that genetic resources are shared equitably among the world’s people. Only two states have not ratified it – the US and the Vatican.

With its associated Protocols, the Nagoya and Cartagena covering access to benefit-sharing and biosafety respectively, the Convention is the key international agreement for moving forward with protection of species, just as the UNFCCC governs work on limiting global heating. But whereas the UNFCCC has its Paris Agreement to provide a framework, the UNCBD lacks such a structure.

This, in brief, is what many delegates, civil society organisations andcampaigners are now calling for: A credible post-2020 global biodiversity framework that will address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and agree some 20 targets for action. Almost three years into the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, there is a feeling that the Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Montreal is a “make or break” moment.


General view of the Montreal venue

Calls for meaningful action

Pressure is on to settle the framework’s details. This means to protect an agreed proportion of land and marine areas; mainstream sustainable agriculture and consumption; safeguard the rights of indigenous people as stewards of nature; and provide financial resources aligned with environmental protection. There is also a call for national action plans, similar to the nationally determined contributions of the Paris Agreement.

In his address at the opening ceremony, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, made a public commitment to preserve the country’s environment “like never before”, by protecting 30% of land and water resources by 2030. This target is a “critical threshold” for Canada’s economic and food security, he said, and it is perfectly achievable. 

Action will be taken to protect important species, and partnerships developed with indigenous people, with the commitment of significant funds, he added, during a speech interrupted by protest from members of Canada’s indigenous community.

Brahma Kumaris bring a spiritual perspective

The Brahma Kumari (BK) green team – Canadians David Fletcher, Anne-Christelle Le Hir and Juan Vazquez, along with Environment Initiative members fresh from COP27, Maureen Goodman (UK), Valeriane Bernard (France) and Aneta Loj (Poland) – have joined with many faith-based organisations to bring a spiritual perspective to the proceedings.

Among the highlights, many hosted within the dedicated Faith Based Pavilion: 

  • A Talanoa Dialogue, where participants heard from expert speakers and then moved into small groups (seen below) to discuss issues of most concern, e.g. rights-based approaches. 

Talanoa Dialogue break-out group

  • An event focussing on best practices in communications, education and public awareness (CEPA Fair) where speakers discussed holistic approaches to raise awareness and change behaviour for a harmonious way of living. Moderated by David, with speakers from around the world, it focussed on reconnecting with nature, understanding indigenous knowledge traditions, and our deeper values. Juan highlighted empowering people by helping them to connect with their inner spiritual consciousness. As David commented: Major change in individuals and the world follows from a change in awareness.

Holistic approaches for raising awareness and changing behavior fostering harmonious consciousness and lifestyl – CEPA Fair side event

fostering harmonious consciousness and lifestyl – CEPA Fair side event

  • Peace breaks initiated by the BKs, and more widely adopted by faith organisations: A moment for stillness and inner reflection, daily at 1:15pm at the COP venue.
  • Also happening during the COP15 fortnight: Special gatherings at the BK Centre, Montreal, to meet team members and explore the most important issues at stake and the spiritual approach to them. 

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