Why biodiversity should have a deeper role in post-2015 policies

Europe's World

Climate & Energy

Picture of Sonia Peña Moreno
Sonia Peña Moreno

Senior Policy Officer-Biodiversity at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Sustainable development was defined by the Brundtland Report of 1987 as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. That laudable idea has had many followers since then. Yet, almost thirty years later, biodiversity – the variety of species, genes and ecosystems on Earth and what is providing us with the means to live healthily and happily – is fast disappearing. Human activities such as unsustainable production and consumption are to blame. Sadly, it seems that we have not come to grips with the notion of sustainability after all.

The biodiversity imperative must be understood, and many more clear, simple and sharp examples are needed for that to happen

In 2012, thousands of representatives from various sectors gathered in Rio de Janeiro to take stock of the twenty years since the Rio Earth Summit and to shape a new path for “the future we want”. The Rio+20 conference decided upon a new framework to ensure sustainable development for all, the sustainable development goals (SDGs). An initial set of 17 goals and 169 targets released last year has been the basis for negotiations, which should culminate in the adoption of a final set of SDGs this September.

The proposed package of goals builds on the framework provided by the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 and subsequently by the whole UN system, and includes objectives like ending poverty and inequality, achieving food security, ensuring healthy lives, education and the availability and sustainable management of water and energy, sustaining economic growth, production and consumption, and combating climate change. Biodiversity is already addressed, in one way or another, in many of the goals. In particular, Goal 14 on the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and marine resources and Goal 15 on  the protection, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, the management of forests, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss.

The most important challenge is lack of awareness about what biodiversity is and how it is linked to sustainable development

As negotiations enter their final stage, it is important for everyone to realise that while it is useful to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a strong SDG framework will be one that moves away from the silos approach that characterised the MDGs; economic, social and environmental dimensions must be interwoven and integrated, horizontally and vertically. Greater emphasis must be placed on the need for investments into protecting the natural infrastructure that will ensure ecosystems continue to supply humanity with the services keeping us alive. Like a healthy immune system, a healthy environment shields us from the effects of the many ills of our time. In addition, many more people have to have a say into this, all sectors and interest groups. We are all concerned, and all voices must be heard. But the most important challenge is misinformation or lack of awareness about what biodiversity is and how it is linked to sustainable development and our daily lives. The biodiversity imperative must be understood, and many more clear, simple and sharp examples are needed for that to happen. If this is not the case, I’m afraid no action will be triggered to tackle biodiversity loss, and sustainable development will end up being a lost cause.

A strong SDG framework will be one that moves away from the silos approach that characterised the MDGs

How can you attempt to reduce poverty if you don’t tackle the destruction of the natural resources that provide food and shelter? How can you ensure access to clean air and water if you pollute rivers? How can you provide food for all if habitats are destroyed? How can economic growth be ensured in the absence of healthy forests and productive systems?

Let us use this opportunity to really embrace sustainable development once and for all. If humanity is to live in harmony with nature and societies are to prosper, nature has to thrive too. That is the gist of sustainable development.

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