Returning from Geneva earlier this month, I was inspired by the sense of urgency demonstrated by national governments, the private sector and civil society, in their acknowledgement that biodiversity protection matters.
I attended the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the third meeting of the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), which was tasked with considering the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. This is Nature’s equivalent of the Paris Climate Agreement, a framework of 21 action-oriented targets aimed at better protecting animals and nature over the decade to 2030.
There was a real impression from the meeting of 196 national governments and global stakeholders – the first in-person meeting for years – that nature is everyone’s business.
That the required transformational change in society’s relationship with animals and nature will need a cross-disciplinary and global collaboration – particularly if humanity needs to “Live in Harmony with Nature” by 2050 (CBD). Governments, business, and civil society must all work together to save nature to save ourselves.
ANIMONDIAL attended with Business for Nature, a global coalition of forward-thinking businesses and conservation organisations, to amplify a powerful leading business voice calling for governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss. It was encouraging to learn from various businesses, particularly those that rely on natural resources, and those whose operations potentially impact on nature, that actions are being applied to avoid or minimise negative impact. Furthermore, the realisation that business facilitation tools and procedures already exist and are helping business to mainstream biodiversity values and measure and mitigate impacts.
Sadly, ANIMONDIAL was the only business attending the CBD meeting representing the Travel & Tourism sector. Travel & Tourism is not only highly dependent on nature, but it is instrumental to the financing of protected areas across the globe, influencing policy change, and supporting sustainable development and community empowerment. In fact, this one sector has a significant opportunity to demonstrate its potential for positive contributions and play a leading role in building a global Nature Positive future.
This is the key messaging incorporated into the Travel & Tourism whitepaper on biodiversity and nature protection – soon to be published by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in collaboration with ANIMONDIAL. This report will bridge knowledge gaps, outline common challenges, and set out a Nature Positive Tourism approach that combines climate change mitigation principles with nature protection and sustainable use, to achieve a nature-friendly, low-carbon future.
Whilst the ongoing CBD negotiations are reportedly, disappointingly slow and lack the required ambition (Wildlife Conservation Society), it is important to recognise the role of the private sector. When managed well, its potential to influence meaningful change.
My hope is that when we again congregate at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Kunming, China, later this year, the private sector, and in particular Travel & Tourism, will have an influencing role. Whilst governments will ultimately need to agree to adopt the Global Biodiversity Framework, it will be the private sector and the wider society that will be required to fulfil its goals. After all, Nature is everyone’s business.
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There is now no doubt, planetary health, animal exploitation, biodiversity loss, emergent disease and climate change are all interconnected and stem from the often-exploitative human activity on the natural world. The costs of inaction will be far greater than the costs of resolution. Whereby everyone will be affected unless everyone plays their part.
At CoP26 next week, the UN Climate Change Conference, world leaders will debate how and when, during a year of unprecedented challenges, they will implement actions to fulfil the Paris Climate Accords. Ultimately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming. Planet Earth is currently experiencing its highest atmospheric CO2 concentrations, that has not been equalled for millions of years. Inactively to reduce emissions will result in temperature rises that threaten the balance of life and the collapse of everything that gives us security.
An inevitable outcome of CoP26 are regulatory measures that will enforce decarbonisation, which are understandably at the forefront of the minds of the green-conscious business that wants to play their part. For the travel and tourism sector, however, limiting carbon emissions, whilst recommended, can only be minimal.
Nature-enhancing solutions, on the other hand, provides the sector with a relatively cost-effective solution to this conundrum. Nature is the very fabric on which all life on Earth is based. It includes the plants and the animals, the soil and the rock, and the air and water on which life depends. Whilst biodiversity refers to the multitude of living things that make up nature – the 8 million or so species on the planet – including us, humans. Nature has the natural ability to absorb and store carbon so, the greater the biodiversity, the greater the amount of carbon stored. Travel and tourism already value nature, from its vital eco-system services to the uniqueness it provides to the destinations we love to visit. This literal lifeline offers travel and tourism an opportunity to bring greater value to nature, ensure its better protection, and ultimately position the sector a force for good.
This was my proposition to the Latin American travel and tourism sector during the LATA’s EXPO this October. Latin America is hugely undervalued, considering it is the most biodiverse geographical region on Earth. It is home to most of the known amphibian species, birds, mammal species, and an amazing 60,000 species of tree! Not only that, but its forests produce 20% of the oxygen we breathe, act as a store of 50% of all the carbon dioxide we humans produce, absorb solar radiation, limit the Earth’s reflectivity, regulates our freshwater supply, and stabilise climatic conditions. All vital allies in our struggle to combat climate change. Yet 100 acres of rainforest is cleared every minute, with Amazon wildfires, said to cause the loss of 10 million hectares each year. Why? Because local communities currently put greater value on the conversion of forest to agricultural land, than the protection of the forests.
Tourism has the ability to reverse this disruptive, and life-destroying trend. Managed responsibly, tourism can bring greater value to these wild places, encouraging the better protection of animals and nature, and incentivise local guardianship rather than deforestation.
To that end, ANIMONDIAL and the LATA Community are working together to reduce travel and tourism’s negative impact on the region where possible and champion nature-enhancing practices. Launching in 2022, a year devoted to biodiversity, the initiative will celebrate Latin America’s rich biodiversity. Mobilising governments, businesses, and communities to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding, identify and minimise negative impact, adopt sustainable practices and restore nature lost.
Whatever happens at CoP26, action on climate change is already affecting the way we value land and ecosystems. But waiting for our governments to act may be too late, let this be an opportunity for travel and tourism to take the reins, and ensure biodiversity-rich, lower income countries have the opportunity to benefit financially from restoring their climate-friendly landscapes. Delivering nature’s approach to lessening climate change and our ability to work in harmony with nature.
It is now just weeks until the world’s governments meet to decide the necessary steps for addressing biodiversity loss and climate change.
CoP15 (11 – 15 October) will consider global actions to reverse biodiversity loss, whilst CoP26 (31 October – 12 November) will consider global climate action. Both events will bring together the governments of most nations (a Conference of the Parties) to negotiate and agree targets and actions to tackle these increasingly imposing crises, now regarded as interconnected issues requiring a joined-up approach (IPBES & IPCC, 2021).
There is, of course, concern that there will be ‘the dodgers’, those who fail to recognise the threats and act on their responsibilities, and others who may still claim there is nothing to worry about. But the facts, and the evidence of the need to act, couldn’t be clearer. Stark reports show that Planet Earth is facing its 6th Mass Extinction of wildlife, with biological diversity disappearing and threatening our reliance on fresh air, water, food, and wellbeing (etc.), as well as contributing to the ever-eventful severe weather. These issues affect us all. There is literally no room for dodgers at these CoPs!
The scientific community has clearly presented the case: a “Code red for humanity” where “big systematic changes [are needed] and fast” to address “the huge scale of the challenges we are facing” (IPCC & IPBES, 2021). Whilst this is difficult reading, particularly at a time when the travel and tourism sector is seeking to bounce back following the pandemic, still we must act. While our governments decide on the CoP targets, we, as businesses and individuals, must not dodge our responsibilities. We must act now to minimise negative impact and adopt the necessary measures to fulfil biodiversity protection targets.
ANIMONDIAL, the specialist consultancy that advises the travel and tourism sector on all matters concerning animal and nature protection, has adopted the call to action: “Build Back Better for Animals”. It recognises that such an action will not only seek to reverse biodiversity loss, but also reduce climate change. Pursuing this mandate provides a valuable opportunity for the travel and tourism sector to become a driver of positive change, counterbalancing its unavoidable impacts with widespread direct and indirect benefits. ANIMONDIAL’s initiatives provide travel businesses with the means to identify and minimise impacts while supporting nature-based solutions: actions already aligned to the (anticipated) CoP15 outcomes.
ANIMONDIAL’s step-by-step approach will certainly cater for those businesses already looking to make strides to fulfil their biodiversity protection and climate action obligations, while the rest will wait for CoP outcomes, legal requirements, and likely incentives.
But why wait?
In fact, we already know the probable outcomes of CoP15, as presented by the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which governments are currently considering. The High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, a group of 60 countries chaired by Costa Rica, France and the UK, is pushing for far-reaching, concrete action on biodiversity. It joins UNEP and multiple NGOs in advocating, as a minimum, the goal of putting 30% of global land and sea area under protected status by 2030. Some supporters include additional milestones such as a 5% increase in the “area, connectivity and integrity of natural systems” and the halting or reversing of the current increase in the global extinction rate.
These are all measures that can become objectives for the Travel and Tourism sector. Nature is already integral to much of the tourism product offering and the destinations we all love to visit. Ensuring its protection, and where possible, regeneration, will incentivise the better protection of nature and wildlife, from community to government levels, through the benefit of tourism revenues. This presents a relatively simple nature-based solution to counterbalance tourism’s unavoidable impacts.
Reducing carbon emissions is the current call to arms, and this is certainly required. But as travel businesses, emission reductions will always be limited. However, tourism’s ability to better protect animals and nature is a huge opportunity to fulfil obligations addressing both biodiversity loss and climate change.
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Whilst CoP15, to set new global targets to protect Biological Diversity, is now likely to move from October 2021 to May 2022 (due to the pandemic), there is no reason for businesses to wait to play their part. Why wait for our governments to act when everyone is responsible?
Last week, when the EU Block launched its proposed new Green Deal, we were reminded of the urgency we face, we are already in the ‘make-or-break decade’ in the fight against the climate and nature crises. Policymakers and governments will set targets and the regulatory framework to enact it, but this will take time, require political support, and the need for each industry, business, and individual to understand the need and what to do. Time that we don’t have.
This was certainly my view when ANIMONDIAL successfully pitched to draft the guidance document to support the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Buenos Aires Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade. The Declaration sets out clear targets for the Travel & Tourism signatories to aim for, but it doesn’t provide instruction on how to achieve them, neither does it recognise the different kinds of businesses and their unique services and operations. The WTTC guidelines, Preventing Illegal Wildlife Trade, crafted by ANIMONDIAL, bring clarity to a complex issue, and provides travel businesses with relevant advice to follow and viable actions to take. Tourism can proliferate illegal wildlife trade and hinder its elimination, but it can also influence the protection of wildlife, so as travel businesses, please do what you can to adopt the guidance.
The recent pre-CoP15 announcements by both the EU and the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, propose some ambitious targets to address the climate and nature crises. However, sceptics are already questioning their viability, pointing out that not one government achieved the former Aichi Targets for biodiversity, and so far, none of the UN Sustainable Development Goals are likely to be fulfilled by 2030. It is a concerning thought that many of those required to support or meet the proposed EU and UN targets are already saying they are not achievable!
Let’s consider some of the targets proposed by the EU and UN for a moment:
- Protection for 30% of the World’s land and Oceans by 2030 (currently at 15.7% and 7.7% respectively) (UN)
- 1/3 climate crisis mitigation delivered through valuing and protecting nature (UN)
- Reducing pesticide use by 2/3 (UN), eliminating plastic pollution (UN), higher renewables targets and taxing carbon emissions (EU)
- Planting 3 billion trees (EU), protecting ‘old forests’ (EU) and cutting species extinction rates by 90% by 2050 (UN)
All welcomed targets, and perfectly achievable if applied globally, enforced by national legislative framework, and underpinned by effective, sector-specific guidance and actions. Let’s not wait for the governments to meet, for the targets to be set, and for the legal frameworks to be applied. Businesses and their leaders should decide their own sector-specific targets and the guidance to provide the individual business with relevant advice to follow and viable actions to take.
As travel and tourism businesses, you already value nature and what it uniquely brings to the product you sell and the destinations you visit. Through your operations, nature and its wildlife can be better protected, negative impact minimised, and actions customised to improve safeguards and optimise outputs. Why wait until May 2022 to act?
Acting now, and if managed well, travel and tourism can be a force for good. It can value wildlife, their habitats, and destinations – which in turn incentivises national and local action to better protect animals and nature.
Now is the time to Build back Better for Animals.
» View WTTC’s Guidelines on Preventing Illegal Wildlife Trade
» Sign up to our initiative to Build Back Better for Animals
- First draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework | CBD.int
- EU’s green deal plans launched with ‘make-or-break decade’ warning | European Commission | The Guardian