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20 positives for nature from 2020

21 December 2020
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2020 was not the Super Year for Nature that the global conservation community expected, as the world responded to the urgent crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic also reinforced the need for urgent action on reversing ecological degradation worldwide, and work to tackle the global nature crisis continued apace to help build a better, healthier future for people and planet.

Here are 20 positive developments for nature that took place this year:

1. We kicked off the year with an all-women scientist team leading research onboard a ship in the North Pacific Ocean!

One of our colleagues joined a team of three female scientists on board the ship Miraie researching microplastics in the western North Pacific Ocean. During the trip, they also ran an Ocean Literacy programme with children from Palau to help develop the next generation of ocean leaders.

2. Through ENCORE, we urged the financial sector to set biodiversity targets

UNEP-WCMC began work with partners to enhance the ENCORE tool to help financial institutions align their portfolios with global biodiversity targets. An ENCORE report highlighted the need for banks, investors and insurers to set targets to reduce biodiversity loss, starting with nine critical sectors.

3. New insights helped to inform the world about the state of nature

For example, we created a first-of-its-kind global map of the state of the world’s terrestrial habitat to help both businesses and investors to protect precious habitats.

4. We calculated how to save Earth's Oceans

The study Area Requirements to Safeguard Earth's Marine Species mapped more than 22,000 marine species habitats and applied a mathematical approach to identify the minimum area required to capture a portion of each species range.

5. Seagrass was found to be key to tackling climate change

Out of the Blue: The Value of Seagrasses to the Environment and to People, showed that seagrass meadows cover more than 300,000 km2 in at least 159 countries. They store carbon, nurture fish populations, weaken storm surges, and provide numerous other services to coastal communities.

6. The nature and climate agendas drew closer together 

One example of this is the work of The Nature Map initiative. The international consortium helps to identify key areas where conservation and restoration action could provide the highest joint benefits for biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and other ecosystem services. In addition, research-based on our work with partners through the Nature Map Initiative found that conserving 30 per cent of land in strategic locations could safeguard 500 gigatonnes of carbon stored in vegetation and soils – around half the world’s vulnerable terrestrial carbon stocks – and reduce the extinction risk of nearly 9 out of 10 threatened terrestrial species.

7. … and there’s growing recognition about how conserving and sustainably using nature could prevent future pandemics too

Here are six ways sustainable management of the world's ecosystems might help to reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 emerging in the future.

8. The debate on the role of area-based conservation in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework continued

As work to develop the framework proceeds, there is a lively international discussion about what role area-based conservation can play. A paper published this year gave key insights into the four broad perspectives in this debate.

9. ...and experts revealed urgent solutions for boosting Protected Area effectiveness

Scientists conducted a new global review of protected areas, finding that to be more effective, area-based conservation efforts need to be better funded, climate-smart, and equitably managed.

10. A new guide to understanding the impacts of Ecosystem-based adaptation interventions was launched

The guidebook helps practitioners with monitoring the outcomes and impacts of nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation.

11. The levels of illegal trade in USA and EU markets for a sample of wildlife species were revealed

Research with our partners found that border seizures of animal material added an average of almost 30% and 10% to US and EU reported legal trade levels, respectively, across the sample studied.

12. We added new identification resources to the main CITES species platforms

The CITES Secretariat and UNEP-WCMC added over 4,000 identification resources to the Checklist of CITES Species and Species+ platforms. Easy access to these materials helps to simplify the process of accurately identifying species during enforcement efforts.

13. Scientists proposed a new species extinction target

Research suggests that the upcoming future strategy for conserving biodiversity should include a prominent target to lower extinction rates. The proposed target – fewer than 20 extinctions a year - would apply to all described species across the major taxonomic groups and ecosystem types.

14. Ecosystem restoration could prevent up to 70% of extinctions

Did you know that restoring 30% of lands that have been converted for farming in priority areas, whilst retaining natural ecosystems, would prevent over 70% of projected extinctions of mammals, birds and amphibians? At the same time, restoring these priority lands would put us on track to sequester more than 465 billion tons of CO2.

15. With partners, we launched the latest State of the World's Forests Report

The conservation of global biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use forests, according to The State of the World’s Forests report. The report shows that urgent solutions are needed to safeguard the forests’ biodiversity amid alarming rates of deforestation and degradation.

16. We joined a team of world-leading scientists in designing a strategy for halting and reversing biodiversity loss from land-use change!

Ground-breaking modelling and newly developed scenarios show that, with ambitious and integrated action, it’s possible to halt and reverse terrestrial biodiversity loss from land-use change. Six key actions are needed.

17. We announced a collaboration with UN Women to help build a gender-responsive post-2020 global biodiversity framework

The process to develop the post-2020 global biodiversity framework should be gender-responsive to help reach both gender equality and global biodiversity objectives. To help achieve this, UNEP-WCMC and UN Women are collaborating to progress priority action areas for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in the implementation of the framework.

18. We analysed ecosystem restoration funding

An overview of ecosystem restoration funding across Europe was launched, providing crucial insights and a much-needed tool for policymakers and practitioners. During the last decade, more than €1.2 billion has been committed to over 400 projects, restoring over 11 million hectares of degraded ecosystems across Europe.

19. We registered a milestone in the Protected Planet databases!

With the help of governments and stakeholders across over 150 countries, the Protected Planet team updated, verified or added 223,000 protected area and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECM) records in the Protected Planet databases. That is 83% of all records and almost 100,00 more than in 2019.

The December releases of the Protected Planet databases (The WDPA and WD-OECM) show that protected and conserved areas now cover 16.0% of the world's land and 7.72% of the ocean!  This significant milestone brings us one step closer to meeting an important element of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11: that 17% of the world's land and 10% of the world's ocean should be within protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs.)

20. We proposed a new comprehensive measurement for biodiversity health, similar to GDP

Together with our partners, we set out the case and framework for a new index for the state of biodiversity and its contributions to people to galvanise action for nature: the Multidimensional Biodiversity Index (MBI).