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In this episode of Nature League, Brit breaks down the recent United Nations Summit on Biodiversity and shares key messages and summaries from the event.

To learn more about international biodiversity policy and groups, visit:

United Nations Summit on Biodiversity: https://www.un.org/pga/75/united-nations-summit-on-biodiversity/

United Nations CBD: https://www.cbd.int/

CBD COP15: https://www.cbd.int/cop/

IPBES: https://ipbes.net/

Citation for 5th GBO: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal

Written, edited, and presented by: Brit Garner
Graphics and illustrations by: Tamar Ziri
Original concept art: Maia Ledesma and Matthew Gaydos

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Nature League is an edutainment channel that explores life on Earth and asks questions that inspire us to marvel at all things wild. Join host Brit Garner to learn about, connect to, and love the amazing living systems on Earth and the mechanics that drive them.

 (00:00) to (02:00)


Brit: Welcome back to Nature League!

If you're up to date on this channel, you might remember me mentioning in a recent video that I was planning on doing a video all about the UN Global Biodiversity--

[thump from cat jumping in front of camera]

Jane! Strong start. Classic.

Well, this is that video, if Jane lets me record it. But it's even better than that because as of recording this, just two weeks ago the United Nations actually met for its first ever Summit on Biodiversity. Like, the countries of the world got together for the purpose of discussing life on Earth, and for the first time ever. First time!

But what happened? What were the talking points? Who was in attendance? What were the key messages? And what are still the lingering questions? Let's find out.

[Lighthearted theme music]

My goal in this video is to share this recent UN Summit on Biodiversity with all of you and to discuss some of the key messages that were brought up throughout the day.

But for that, we should probably start with how we got here in the first place and what actually led to having a Summit on Biodiversity on September 30th, 2020.

In terms of an official timeline, we can probably start with the UN CBD. No, not that CBD. This CBD stands for the Convention on Biological Diversity, and it really got things going back in 1992.

At present there are 196 parties signed on to the UN CBD. And this thing is all about conserving biodiversity while also promoting sustainable use and maintaining equitable and fair access to these resources.

Later on, these member parties, in about 2002, came together and decided that, well, you know, maybe we should set some actual targets in place. Things that we want to achieve by, say, 2010.

 (02:00) to (04:00)


Well, 2010 came along, and despite the UN declaring that it was going to be the International Year of Biodiversity, the target was not met. There had been a collective failure to significantly reduce the loss of biodiversity. But instead of giving up, they decided to try again.

They all met again and they were pretty much like, "Okay yeah, oops our bad, uh, maybe we can try a little bit harder, maybe get a little more specific, and maybe we can accomplish these goals by the next decade, by 2020."

So in 2010, the member parties of the CBD adopted a second strategic plan for biodiversity and set in place 20 explicit goals to accomplish by the year 2020. So here we are, 2020, and it's time to assess how we did over the past decade, and spoiler alert, it's- it's not good.

On September 15th, the UN CBD published its fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook to see how countries had done trying to reach these targets. Unfortunately, a collective failure happened once again. None of the twenty biodiversity targets have been fully met, and despite 2020 being marketed as a super year for biodiversity, very little has changed in our progress since a decade ago in 2010.

So, two weeks after that report drops, it is time for the first ever United Nations Summit on Biodiversity. The findings of that report had to be taken up by heads of state and more importantly the countries of the world had to figure out what to do next.

They needed to work on establishing the next decade of goals, the ones that member parties will try to agree on at a meeting that's going to happen next year and work to achieve by 2030.

And this is all happening during a pandemic, where the focus is unsurprisingly and fairly, focused on one species: our own.

 (04:00) to (06:00)


Alright, so it's the day of the Summit, September 30th, 2020. Instead of a packed and bustling space, there was a minimal crew of leaders in the physically distanced UN Headquarters in New York City with other heads of state et cetera joining in virtually or submitting pre-recorded videos.

Hashtag cuz COVID.

In the opening segment, the current President of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir called the Summit to order and got real.

Volkan Bozkir: Allow me to be direct. Our existence on this planet depends entirely on our ability to protect the natural world around us.

Brit: Right. All of that. That right there. Like all of that. Like I am sending the GIF of the person pointing up and being like this right here. He ended with,

Volkan Bozkir: I hope you recognize that there is every reason, either from a moral standpoint or from an economic standpoint and also from an existential standpoint, to protect biodiversity.

Brit: Next up, after a thorough disinfecting of the speaking platform, the current UN Secretary General António Guterres spoke. And again, he didn't hold anything back.

António Guterres: Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen. Humanity is waging war on nature.

Brit: Yes. An interesting point brought up in his speech and also later on was this: 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. The "zoo" prefix refers to the animal kingdom and zoonotic diseases are named that because humans can directly catch them from other animal species.

The fact that this Summit of world leaders is having to convene over a virtual platform because a disease emerged from another species and directly impacted our entire species is totally a reminder of the fact that we are all connected.

We are simply not separate from other living species on this planet. And this fact was made clear by several speakers throughout the day.

 (06:00) to (08:00)


This initial group of speakers ended with China's President Xi Jinping. This was a high-drama moment, and one that people were speculating a lot about leading up to this summit. China is involved in multiple human rights and environmental controversies but is still a member party of the CBD.

What's most important is that China is slated to host the COP15 for the CBD next year. That's the UN Conference of the Parties and that's where they're going to try to adopt the next decade of biodiversity goals.

So, what was China's message? The speech provided the following four main points.

First, they suggest that we respect nature and find a way to balance economic development with ecological protection.

Second, that we need to uphold multilateralism and global environmental protection. They suggest that things like the CBD and the Paris Agreement are critical and that unilateralism isn't an option.

Oof, a direct hit at the US on that one! Indeed, at the time of recording this, the United States is not a member party of the CBD and is in the process of removing itself from the Paris Agreement, though the technical withdrawal can't be until November 4th. As if we needed anything else to worry about that week.

Speaking of, if you live in the US, please remember to register to vote if eligible, and if you need help with that, you can definitely check out How To Vote In Every State, a YouTube channel dedicated to helping you do exactly that.

Third, their speech suggested that green development could be coupled with economic recovery after COVID 19. A legitimate concern, but one that is incredibly difficult to actually pull off. And this was a topic that pervaded the majority of the entire Summit.

The fourth and final proposal from China is that countries heighten their sense of responsibility and fulfill their commitments.

At least in words, China appears committed to cooperating internationally,

 (08:00) to (10:00)


to decrease loss of biodiversity, and also to address its climate change contributions and carbon emissions. We'll just have to wait and see what actually happens.

Alright, so that was the opening segment of the UN Summit on Biodiversity. Next up was a series of what they called Fireside Chats with several leaders of UN departments and other global organizations, like Ipis (?~8:20) a group that we've covered on this channel before.

Some themes that emerged from these chats were the current and ongoing loss of nature's contributions to people, the need for integrating nature into cities and also into policies, and the reminder that COVID-19 is a result of our impact on the natural world.

To round out the opening segment, we had Prince Charles calling for a blue green recovery, and we also had a youth representative calling for the incorporation of indigenous practices and also highlighting the colonial problem of removing people from their native land in order to protect biodiversity. Definitely a lot to think about there.

But there wasn't time, because we were moving right along to the plenary portion of the Summit, as well as two dialogues of different leaders. And, okay, to be clear, this thing was like, longer than ten hours, so what I'm giving you right now is a very very condensed summary of the meeting. I'm just trying to highlight things, give a summary, and try to point out little tidbits that I found interesting throughout the day.

If you're interested in seeing the whole thing, by all means, go for it! But, like, it's more than ten hours. Heads up.

The majority of these hours were spent hearing from leaders and representatives of member states, and specifically speaking on behalf of their country and regions in relation to biodiversity and achieving those targets, as well as nature's contributions to people.

By achieving those targets, I mean largely failing to achieve, but still pointing out some successes along the way as well as areas for improvement as they go along in the future.

 (10:00) to (12:00)


There were easily hundreds of memorable moments, but here are some that really jumped out to me that I'd like to share.

We had the King of Jordan discussing the actual legal rights that should be extended to ecosystems and also all flora and fauna, which is a topic I am super fascinated by and think is really intriguing.

King of Jordan: And empower the world's environmental activists and others to take legal action on behalf of nature's rights. We owe this to the future generations.

Brit: The President of Israel mentioned cooperation, even with states like Palestine and the United Arab Emirates when it comes to protecting biodiversity.

President of Israel: Nature and the environment knows no border. They cannot really understand borders. Just as we must work together to defeat the coronavirus, we must work together to save nature.

Brit: The Prince of Monaco called for a better understanding of marine biodiversity.

Prince of Monaco [via English translator]: Oceans often contain a wealth of biodiversity about which there is a great deal of ignorance, but this biodiversity is under threat.

Brit: And the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, okay, besides receiving my fake award that doesn't matter at all for best dressed because that suit is amazing, made some eye-opening remarks that were specific to his country.

President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo [via English translator]: There is another threat that is even more timely than biodiversity in my country and that is the activism of external and internal armed groups, as well as the international illegal trade in natural resources in particular in the east and northeast of the country.

Brit: Like, on top of climate change and habitat loss, they are up against literally people with guns. It's a good reminder that protecting biodiversity can mean a lot of different things depending on where you live.

We had the Prime Minister of Bhutan offering up a totally well-deserved brag, saying that their country is actually effectively carbon negative and that they're getting all of their energy from hydropower.

 (12:00) to (14:00)


Prime Minister of Bhutan: For now, we have over 70 percent forest cover. That is why we are a proud carbon-negative country today.

Brit: Oh, and then, um, Russia happened. Honestly, at some times I enjoy how unbelievably Russian Russia is. You'll understand what I mean. Just check out the intro and exit music that they prepped and had accompanying their video.

[Dramatic music plays during clip]

Brit: Uh, yup. And I am pretty sure that of all the countries to speak, Russia was the only one that had official music. To be clear, it does sound, like, totally cool. Reminds me of like Durmstrang entrance music Harry Potter four movie. 

[Brit makes dramatic drum sounds]

Brit: You know what I'm talking about. I know that you know.

[Dramatic drum music plays during clip]

Brit: Moving on. The President of Botswana mentioned the importance of local communities in preventing the loss of endangered species and halting extinctions, which is something that's actually really important and sometimes missed in global conversations.

And finally, there was this really cool moment when the United States-- oh, psych! We weren't there.

Okay. Let me treat this with a little bit more nuance. [Clears throat.] I am personally saddened by the United States' absence from the CBD, as well as disappointed that no one from our country was representing Washington, D.C. at this biodiversity summit.

But in general, we aren't absent from UN meetings and groups because we don't care about biodiversity or nature's contributions to people. For better or worse, the United States is just kind of into doing things alone, and in our own way.

To be clear, the United States has done some amazing environmental work, and our Endangered Species Act serves as a model to this day for other countries when they consider prioritizing species.

 (14:00) to (16:00)


The issue is that, in my opinion, doing it alone is not going to work, and it's not good enough right now, especially when the challenges we're facing are global in nature. There's things that the United States can learn from other countries and also things that we might be able to share with other countries. The same way going back and forth like any multilateral thing.

And this is where politics legitimately matters for things like biodiversity and nature and the environment. Current administrations as they change over time can have a total impact on the incorporation of these kinds of multilateral things.

So, I mentioned it once, I'll mention it again. If you live in the United States and you're eligible, please make sure to exercise your right and vote. Wooh.

So yeah. The United States was not at this meeting but they really should have been, and they could've had like, way cool play-on and play-off music like Russia. Right? Anyone? Anyone? Alright.

Anyways, there were many, many speakers throughout the day, and in fact, there were so many countries that wanted to have representatives speak that the UN Summit for Biodiversity had to add spillover events for people to talk after the official meeting ended, which is definitely cool and a good sign that people really cared.

So after a very long day indeed, it was time for the closing segment. The Deputy Secretary General for the UN gave a call to action and summarized the urgency in addressing global biodiversity, as well as asking nations to step up and actually deliver and realize the ambitions that had been set forth.

Then, the UN General Assembly President gave a closing remark including the following key messages.

First, that despite the difficulties of COVID-19, we have a unique opportunity to build back afterward in a way that can actually help biodiversity and promote economic growth. A so-called green reset.

 (16:00) to (18:00)


Second, that both biodiversity and human food security depend on overhauling our approach to food production and distribution. In doing this, he states, we have to use education, science, and indigenous knowledge to restore degraded ecosystems.

Third, that protecting biodiversity has to be an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. Voluntary action isn't enough and we have to engage all stakeholders.

And finally, that action has to take place at all governing levels, that cities and local authorities are going to play a huge role in addressing the biodiversity challenge. In his own words.

Volkan Bozkir: It will be difficult, but it is far from impossible. Humankind is capable of incredible feats of science and engineering, of deep compassion and consideration. The key messages from today's dialogues have reminded me of that and have given me hope.

Brit: So there you have it. The first ever UN Summit on Biodiversity, held just two weeks ago from the time of recording this video. The goal of this summit was to be for biodiversity what the 2014 UN Climate Change Summit was for climate change: a gathering of ideas and humans that boosted momentum and led to the eventual success of putting together the Paris Agreement for Climate Change.

Well, what's the verdict? Did this summit push the world forward and set into play what's going to happen next? Will the Biodiversity COP 15 next year be a successful meeting of minds and countries?

Only time will tell. What is clear, both from the UN's Report on the Global Biodiversity Outlook to the UN Summit for Biodiversity, is that we are in need of a transformative and deep systemic change.

As the Earth Negotiations Bulletin wrote in their summary of the UN Summit on Biodiversity: "We know the disease, and we know the cure. But the treatment regimen cannot begin because one critical ingredient is missing. Political will."

 (18:00) to (18:46)


Thanks for watching this episode of Nature League. If you want to learn more about the UN Summit on Biodiversity or the UN CBD or any other of these international frameworks I've mentioned, make sure to check the links in the description below and go to town. There's so much to learn about, and this international policy is incredibly fascinating. As Volkan Bazkir said,

Volkan Bazkir: We are all in this together. Let's go to work. Thank you.

[Video outro music]