Overlooked catastrophe: UN conference wants to slow down the extinction of species

After the UN climate conference COP27, which came to a rather disappointing end almost two weeks ago on November 20th in Egypt, the world community will meet again next week in Canada. Starting Wednesday, Montreal is all about preserving biological diversity. Expectations of the UN Conference on the Protection of Species are high: the result should be a global pact for biodiversity.

How bad are habitats and species? The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that the animal and plant species on the International Red List are bad: Of the 147,500 recorded species, almost 41,500 are in threat categories. And thus more species than ever before. Alongside the climate crisis, species extinction is considered the greatest threat to our planet and our own lives.

This means nothing less than that we are now in the midst of the greatest extinction of species since the end of the dinosaur age 65 million years ago. Science has long called this “sixth great mass extinction”, and according to many experts it is happening right before our eyes. In May 2019, the World Biodiversity Council IPBES published its global report, according to which one million species are under acute threat within the next few decades:

A quarter of mammal species, one in eight bird species, more than 30 percent of sharks and rays and 40 percent of amphibian species are threatened.

Austria is not an environmental model country

According to the Federal Environment Agency, around half of the 500 or so biotope types that occur in Austria are threatened with complete destruction, are endangered or endangered. Accordingly, the overall picture that emerges from the Red Lists of endangered plants is worrying: in the best-studied group of plants, the ferns and flowering plants, over 60% of the species appear in the Red Lists. A similar picture emerges for mosses and lichens.

In terms of plants, the third, completely revised edition of the “Red List of Ferns and Flowering Plants in Austria” was published in 2022. The updated list shows that the species decline in ferns and flowering plants continues unabated. 1,274 ferns and flowering plants are on Austria’s new “Red List”. 66 species are now extinct or have disappeared from all over Austria, 235 species are threatened with extinction, and there are another 973 species that are endangered to a lesser or unknown extent.

In addition, more than half of all amphibians and reptiles in Austria are endangered, as are almost half of all fish and a third of all birds and mammals.

World Environment Conference

“The species protection conference should bring an agreement similar to that in Paris,” said Karim Ben Romdhane, an expert on international species protection at WWF Austria. The negotiations for this have been going on since 2018, that is the year in which the CBD COP 14 was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, i.e. the venue of this year’s world climate conference COP27. The abbreviation CBD stands for “Convention on Biological Diversity”.

The reason why the follow-up conference is in such a spotlight this year is the call for an agreement modeled on the Paris Climate Agreement, which was adopted in 2015. While the Paris Agreement was necessary as a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2020, Montreal is now set to deliver a follow-up agreement to the Nagoya Protocol agreed at the UN Endangered Species Conference in Japan in 2010. At the time, this was welcomed by many environmental NGOs as a “historic result”.

“To reverse this trend, we need an ambitious biodiversity deal, like the Paris Agreement on climate change. A global nature conservation pact with binding, measurable goals by 2030,” the WWF expert called for. One of the key requirements for the CBD COP 15 is that by At least 30 percent of land and sea under protection by 2030 should be provided – the WWF also supports this concern.

Julia Balasch from the WWF youth network Generation Earth emphasized that the climate and species protection crises are linked and that these “twin crises” cannot be solved on their own. In the past decade, nature has absorbed 54 percent of man-made greenhouse gases, Balash also referred to another study by the WWF.

Arno Aschauer, Head of Species and Habitats at the WWF, finally referred to the role of Austria, the “EU laggard in nature conservation”, which, according to an assessment by the EU Environment Agency, only takes the penultimate place in the EU comparison in terms of biodiversity. With 15 percent of the country’s area covered by Natura 2000 protected areas, Austria is also well below the EU average (19 percent). “The management of the protected areas is inadequate, which is why the EU is currently running infringement proceedings again,” Aschauer also warned.

After being postponed several times, the 15th UN Conference on Endangered Species is taking place under the presidency of China. It is based on the World Conference on Nature and is based on the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with currently 196 contracting parties. The aim is to create a world that “lives in harmony with nature” by 2050. More than 10,000 people are expected at COP15, the WWF concludes.

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