Its time. 2022 will be a critical year globally for biodiversity, as the UN COP 15 (United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity conference of parties meeting for the 15th time) is in December.
This meeting will be the largest biodiversity meeting in a generation, and the stakes for protecting our nature are high. Not just because of the increasing rates of extinction, and forecasts of future mass extinctions, but also because previous agreements and targets around biodiversity protection have not been met.
The current internationally agreed target of protecting 17% of land and 8% of sea environments is being replaced by a proposal to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030. This is ambitious but seen as essential for nature to recover and flourish. Discussions leading up to COP15 indicate positive early signs of broad agreement, and optimism that this UN process can result in a serious commitment to protect the environment globally.
There are important implications for Australia and Queensland. Australia has the most diverse collection of flora and fauna in the world, and is home to more than one million known species, with many of these endemic (unique) to Australia.
Although set against this is the unfortunate fact that we have one of the highest loss of species anywhere in the world. In the last 100 years Australia has lost more mammal and plant species than any other country.
On a positive note, Australia has been noted for having large areas of land intact and not seriously degraded, although these areas are typically located in more remote, inland regions. However many significant areas along Australia’s eastern coast are in need of greater protection, with land being converted to agriculture and urban development. COP15 can help stop this loss of biodiversity.
What about Queensland?
Currently Queensland has less than 9% of its land area protected – which is a long way from the proposed 30% target. But this highlights the need for change to halt the destructive processes that cause a rapid decline in the condition of our natural environment. Queensland has an exceptional role, given there are twice as many species here as any other Australian state or territory, with half of the species found nowhere else in the world.
There is a big gap to fill, although the recent unprecedented budget allocation for acquisition of National Parks is a positive step, and highlights their critical role. COP15 will be important to set targets and send an internationally supported expectation to both Australian and Queensland governments. This will likely trigger further action and investment in our protected areas.
Its time to turn rhetoric and a sense of an optimistic future into action. Never before has the need to expand our National Parks and other Protected Areas been more clear or urgent.