Is the CBD trying to mirror the approach to baselines and goals in the UNFCCC?

 Clarifying baselines and goals in the UNFCCC

While the UNFCCC GHG baseline is robust and clear, its temperature goals and targets are not.

The UNFCCC climate baseline is the pre-industrial level of GHG in the atmosphere - chosen because it supports the temperature regime under which life on Earth as we know it has thrived.

The goal of limiting global warming to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees above the pre industrial level was chosen in an attempt to minimize harm to life on Earth. 

However, concerns are growing that this goal is inadequate. The current increase in global average temperature (1.1 degrees) is exacerbating loss and damage from drought, fire, pests and disease. And evidence is mounting that the impact of these increasing threats is greater in damaged and fragmented ecosystems.

The UNFCCC concept of net zero assumes 1 tonne of carbon emitted from any source has the same value as 1 tonne of carbon sequestered in any way.  It ignores profound differences between the longevity and stability of geocarbon and biogenic carbon stocks; and the implications of ongoing damage to relatively undisturbed and stable ecosystems for current and future risk of GHG emissions.

Net targets in the UNFCCC are scientifically flawed and perpetuate the myth that BAU emissions can continue in one sector and be removed somewhere else.

Scientific calls to remove fungibility between biogenic carbon and geo-carbon and establish separate emission reduction targets for fossil fuels and land and forests, are increasing.

Netting out also hides the climate imperative to maintain and/or improve the resilience and stability of all natural ecosystems and ensure no further damage or loss. It also hides the functional role of biodiversity in maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity, resilience and stability. This major failure is important for climate mitigation as there is more carbon stored in ecosystems than there is in fossil fuels.

What is the purpose of a CBD Baseline?

If an analogy with the UNFCCC was possible in the CBD (and we doubt it is), the biodiversity baseline would be pre-industrial or pre colonial and we would be establishing protection and restoration goals to prevent all further damage to natural areas and to restore a high % of pre-industrial/pre colonial levels of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity - the vast burden for which would rightly fall on the developed world.

But many parties are suggesting 2020 as a baseline, which only makes sense if the word is being used to mean a ‘floor’ below which further losses should not occur – with any dip below that ‘floor’ being temporary before heading up an as yet unclear pathway to rebound to an as yet unclear future goal (or reference level)? If this is a correct interpretation what is the reference level for recovery?

Confusion over the purpose of a baseline is exacerbated by use of the word ‘Net’. What is the point of using this language in the CBD and what is its relationship to a baseline – whether a floor below which biodiversity loss and ecosystem integrity should not significantly drop or a recovery reference level?

How useful is the concept of ‘Net’ in CBD goals?

No matter whether expressed as ‘no net loss’ or ‘net positive’, 'net' framing encourages biodiversity policy down the dangerous and deeply flawed path of assuming we can continue BAU damage and loss, and restore biodiversity and ecosystem integrity in the future. Applying this concept to biodiversity and ecosystems is even higher risk than it is in the climate sphere.

‘Net’ implies a major role for biodiversity offsets, even though experience demonstrates that biodiversity offsets are at best a weak tool for preventing biodiversity loss and ecosystem decline and at worst merely ‘greenwash’ for BAU destructive activities.

Far greater consideration needs to be given to the many elements of biodiversity that are irreplaceable in CBD timelines of 2030 and 2050 – not just at the individual species level but at the ecosystem and functional level. Consider for example just two biodiversity (and climate) imperatives – to improve the protection and conservation management of primary forests and near shore marine ecosystems and support the role of indigenous people in protecting those ecosystems. It’s not difficult to see that offsets of any kind are impossible.

What is meant to happen to IPLC's when these ecosystems are damaged or lost? How do offsets help protect their culture and livelihoods? How is their important role reflected in the mooted  biodiversity recovery curve?

It does not take much analysis to see that offsets are a dangerous concept to put up in lights in the CBD! 

Far better to simply acknowledge that we will in all likelihood dip below current levels of biodiversity and ecosystem integrity and set goals and targets aimed at: preventing further loss of species and extinction: maintaining primary ecosystems; improving the integrity, resilience and stability of all ecosystems; increasing adaptive capacity and recovery of species across their current and future natural range; preventing overconsumption and other drivers of loss and destruction; and supporting indigenous and local communities contribution and role in these efforts.

Is there a viable reference level for recovery?

We know we must reverse the trajectory of biodiversity loss and decline before 2030 and achieve a specified measure of recovery by 2050. The measure of recovery to be achieved by 2050 does need benchmarks and indicators for success including permanence. It also needs to foster improved protection and conservation management of existing natural ecosystems ahead of restoration. Would achieving these imperatives be aided by adopting an historical reference level? Would an historical reference level foster CBDR?

We urgently need to re-think this framing and have a deeper conversation about the purpose of baselines and the meaning and role (if any) of the term ‘net’ in the CBD Context? Surely restoration must be in addition to improved conservation management of existing natural ecosystems not an offset to ongoing loss and decline? And clearly losing any species from their natural range presents a problem for biodiversity that cannot be offset?

by Virginia Young




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