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A chance to be bold

Global initiative sets 10-year targets to stabilize biodiversity losses, and 30-year targets for reversing them

Felipe Sucasas / Agência Vale The blue macaw has been declared extinct in the wild; specimens bred in captivity will soon be reintroduced into their natural habitatFelipe Sucasas / Agência Vale

The countdown to establishing new global biodiversity protection and restoration targets has begun. In 2010, the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity was held in Nagoya, in the Aichi prefecture of Japan, where a plan was drawn up to reduce the destruction of natural systems. The plan comprised 20 objectives, dubbed the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, to be achieved by 2020. In October, leaders from around the world are scheduled to meet in Kunming, China, to sign a new pact. Preliminary discussions began in late 2019, with a second round of talks in Rome in February, and final talks planned for Cali, Colombia, in July. In the Italian capital, diplomats from 190 countries worked on a zero draft that establishes an important new approach. Instead of creating targets for the next 10 years, the plan is divided into two phases: there will be targets for 2030 aimed at stabilizing biodiversity losses, and others for 2050 that aim to restore ecosystems.

The hope is that extending the timeline will encourage boldness in the negotiations and prevent the formulation of vague proposals whose progress is difficult to measure, as was the case with Aichi Target 1, for example, which was to ensure people are “aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve it.” At the same time, the aim is to avoid a repeat of the disappointing results of the Aichi Targets, for many of which a decade was not enough time. In a report released in 2019, Brazil’s Ministry for the Environment reported that the country has been unable to achieve 10 of the targets. Not enough progress was made, for example, toward reducing the risk of extinction among endangered species or reducing water, soil, and air pollution to levels that do not compromise ecosystems and biodiversity.

But the report also contains good news, stating that Brazil is on its way to achieving 10 of the targets—even exceeding one of them, which recommends recording and sharing scientific biodiversity information on open platforms (see table). “In target 11, Brazil came extremely close to achieving the objective of protecting 17% of its territory in preservation areas, although this area is distributed unevenly across the country’s different biomes. In marine areas, we surpassed the conservation target of 10%,” says biologist Carlos Alfredo Joly of the University of Campinas, coordinator of the Biota-FAPESP program for biodiversity research.

The new zero draft maintains the five axes of the Aichi Targets: to prevent the loss of ecosystems, reduce the number of endangered plants and animals, maintain the genetic diversity of species, preserve natural resources that improve nutrition and access to water for humans, and ensure that the benefits of biodiversity are fairly distributed. The scale of the objectives will depend on the willingness of the negotiators. In the draft, the percentages for each target have so far been left blank—it is naturally difficult to obtain a consensus from all participating countries. A frequent obstacle in negotiations of this type is agreeing on so-called SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely).

“It is not always possible to reach a consensus on a SMART goal,” explains biologist Bráulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, from the University of Brasília (UnB), who was executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity from 2012 to 2016. “Some of the Aichi targets are not a result, but a process. The countries committed to develop management plans to ensure fishing is performed sustainably, but no targets were set for the recovery of fish stocks,” he says. Dias mentions another example. “Target 7 is to promote the sustainable management of agriculture and forestry, ensuring conservation of biodiversity, but each country has interpreted this goal with their own measures. Sometimes the targets are imprecise not because of a lack of will to achieve them, but because they are so complex.”

The notion that the progress made in the last 10 years has been insufficient is contested by the biologist, who points out that there have been important advances. He mentions a study published as a preprint in February by researchers from Newcastle University, UK, and the Zoological Society of London, who used mathematical models to calculate the number of species that have not gone extinct thanks to efforts made in the last decade. The conclusion is that the Aichi targets have prevented the extinction of up to 18 birds and 7 mammals since 2010. “Brazil stood out in this regard, having prevented the extinction of birds such as the Macaw, which was reintroduced into nature,” says Dias, currently chair of the global council of the UK-based conservationist organization Birdlife. This does not necessarily mean, he notes, that the outlook is good. “The factors that exert pressure on biodiversity are continually worsening, such as demographic growth, consumption, waste production, exploitation and depletion of biological resources such as fish, human expansion into areas occupied by exotic species, and climate change. We have to ask whether humanity is promoting a sixth mass extinction event,” he says. According to Dias, we need to do a lot more than establishing government targets to reverse the situation. “We have to change our consumption habits to reduce the pressure on biodiversity.”

At the meeting held in Rome, there was a notable change in the position taken by the representatives from Brazil. The team, led by Leonardo Athayde, director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MRE) Environment Department, steered discussions toward the issue of biopiracy and the responsibility of developed countries to help fund conservation actions in developing countries, such as Brazil. “Historically, the distribution of benefits has been neglected. The goal is to make this principle more effective, to hopefully ensure funding and technology transfers to developing countries,” the MRE told the Ambiência website, run by journalist Ana Carolina Amaral. Carlos Joly believes the Brazilian attitude is concerning. “Brazil, which used to align itself with other biodiversity-rich countries, is now acting in isolation,” he says. According to the biologist, “the risk is that no SMART consensus will be reached, resulting in a document of vague and uninspiring goals.”

The need for solid negotiation is largely backed by scientific knowledge. In May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted on the state of the Earth’s biological diversity. Over 150 researchers from more than 60 countries contributed to the report, analyzing 15,000 scientific articles. One of the main conclusions was that one million plant and animal species on the planet are endangered. In land ecosystems, the presence of native species has dropped by an average of 20% since the beginning of the twentieth century, and today, more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of corals, and more than a third of all mammals are endangered. “We need to change the perverse narrative that environmental degradation and social inequality are inevitable outcomes of economic growth,” said Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Brondízio of Indiana University, USA, one of the co-chairs of the report. “We know what the consequences will be if we continue to follow the current trajectory, but we also know that it is possible to change and we have the tools to implement policies that make a difference in people’s lives and to the global environment.” The document proposes creating economic instruments capable of funding conservation and compensating for services provided by ecosystems, such as water supply, or activities that help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

How close did Brazil get to the 2020 targets?
The country’s performance in the Aichi Targets was assessed and released last year

Target 1
Brazilians will be aware of the value of biodiversity and how to conserve and use it sustainably
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT A study by the Union for Ethical Biotrade found that 91% of people have heard about biodiversity

Target 2
Biological, geological, and social diversity will be integrated into development strategies
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Of 63 actions proposed for this target, only 14% had been completed by 2018. Private sector involvement was limited

Target 3
Incentives that harm biodiversity will be eliminated or reduced. Positive incentives will be applied
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Sixteen states have begun distributing municipal funds based partly on municipal sustainability indicators

Target 4
Governments, businesses, and other stakeholders will take steps to promote sustainable production and consumption
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Renewable energy accounts for 43% of national consumption, but only 22% of municipalities collect recyclable waste

Target 5
The rate of loss of native habitats will be reduced by 50% of 2009 levels.
Degradation of biomes will be reduced
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT Deforestation fell by 72% in the Amazon and 78% in the Cerrado between 2004 and 2018. The 2019 fires were not part of the assessment

Target 6
Stocks of aquatic organisms will be harvested sustainably. Fisheries will respect safe ecological limits
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Brazil is 26th in the global list of amount of fish captured, but there is a lack of recent data on fishing in the country

Target 7
Sustainable practices will be promoted in agriculture, aquaculture, forestry, and fauna management
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT Number of organic producers grew by 400% between 2010 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Agriculture

Target 8
Water, soil, and air pollution will be reduced to levels not harmful to biodiversity
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Many northern states do not have water management plans; 33.7% of Brazilian households have no access to sewage collection services

Target 9
A strategy for dealing with invasive species will be implemented and continuously monitored
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Only São Paulo and three other states in the south have active policies for dealing with exotic species

Target 10
Human pressure on coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems will be minimized
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT Total protected marine areas grew from 1.5% to 26.3% of the total, thanks to new conservation units

Target 11
At least 30% of the Amazon, 17% of other terrestrial biomes, and 10% of the coast will be protected by conservation areas
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT All protected areas were increased between 2014 and 2018. In the Amazon, the area grew from 26.6% to 28%

Target 12
Extinction of threatened species will be reduced or prevented entirely, and their conservation status will be improved
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT 318 animals and 467 plant species are still critically endangered in the country, according to official data

Target 13
The genetic diversity of microorganisms, plants, and animals will be maintained, including species of socioeconomic and cultural value
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT Embrapa’s Germplasm Bank in Brasilia can store up to 700,000 samples of genetic resources

Target 14
Ecosystems that provide essential services, such as clean water, or contribute to health and livelihoods, will be protected
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT In 2016, environmental regulation of rural properties grew 127%, with a consequent increase in preserved areas

Target 15
The contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks will be increased, including through restoration of degraded ecosystems
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT Recovery of native vegetation in Brazil was only addressed in national policy in 2017

Target 16
National legislation will align with Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT A 2015 law created a modern biodiversity benefits management and sharing system

Target 17
In 2014, the country will have an updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT There is no unified document, but there are 550 laws, decrees, and resolutions in line with the conservation goals

Target 18
Knowledge on biodiversity in relation to indigenous and traditional communities will be integrated into public policy
STATUS Progress has been made toward achieving the target
HIGHLIGHT Policies involving indigenous peoples and traditional communities have been implemented in the past decade

Target 19
Biodiversity science will be widely shared. Information on fauna and flora will be stored in open databases
STATUS Target set to be surpassed
HIGHLIGHT In 2018, the number of plant records in the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System (SIBBR) doubled

Target 20
Financial resources needed to achieve these goals will be allocated to enable implementation of a strategic biodiversity plan
STATUS Advances have been made, but not at a sufficient level
HIGHLIGHT The economic crisis facing Brazil since 2014 has led to reduced public investment in biodiversity protection policies

SOURCE Sixth report for the convention on biological diversity / MMA/ 2019