Over the next two weeks, world leaders will be gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. There they will discuss global biodiversity conservation priorities at the 14th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a multilateral treaty initiated in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as a response to growing concerns over biodiversity loss.
The agenda for CoP 14 covers a range of issues, including a review of the CBD’s progress to date. We are fast approaching the 2020 deadline for achieving the ambitious set of Aichi targets, the 20 time-bound, measurable targets within the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, so this agenda item is likely to come under intense scrutiny.
Targets 14 (on the delivery of ecosystem services, including through ecosystem restoration) and 15 (on restoration as a contribution to ecosystem resilience and climate change mitigation) are particularly relevant to the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP). These targets have been adopted within the European Union (EU) Environment Strategy; by restoring at least 15% of degraded ecosystems and developing green infrastructure, the EU aims to create landscapes that are more resilient to climate change, contribute to carbon stocks and mitigation efforts, and safeguard critical ecosystem services such as clean air and water.
Target-setting and declarations of intent have not, however, been matched by results. The mid-term evaluation of the Aichi targets carried out in 2014 painted a rather bleak picture, concluding that “progress will not be suﬃcient to achieve the targets set for 2020”. Clearly, even well-intentioned efforts to meet the Aichi targets have not been sufficient, and investment into more innovative and ambitious approaches are needed.
The Endangered Landscapes Programme demonstrates the scale of ambition and innovation that will be needed for such an approach if future biodiversity targets are to be met. Its positive and optimistic agenda for action is focused on reversing biodiversity loss and restoring natural ecosystem processes and the services that they deliver.
Working at large scale across eight different landscapes and seascapes in different parts of Europe, the ELP’s restoration projects will bring back nature and be sources of inspiration, models of good practice, and foci for lesson-learning. For example, the 60,000 ha Cairngorms Connect project in the Scottish Highlands, through a partnership led by the RSPB, will restore the Caledonian pine forest to its natural limit, reinstate drained wetlands, naturalise rivers and revive huge tracts of peatland. In Turkey, Fauna & Flora International are leading a project to restore more than 500 km of vulnerable marine habitat along the Turkish Mediterranean coast, helping to re-establish ecosystem connectivity and provide space for habitat and species recovery. And in the Polesia region of Belarus and Ukraine, the Frankfurt Zoological Society aims to protect and restore connectivity within a vast wetland landscape of almost 1.4 million ha. Only by ambition and action of this scale can the goals of the CBD on conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity be achieved.
The outcomes of discussions at this CoP event are eagerly awaited. We already know that countries will fail to meet most of the Aichi targets, but as they go forward progressive restoration initiatives such as those being championed by the ELP need to appear high on the action agenda of national governments. That is, if we are to avoid seeing another round of lofty ambition followed by inadequate action that leaves biodiversity, as well as those that depend on it, paying the price.