man stands on a mountain top

10 keys for a new commitment to biodiversity in the Leaders Pledge for Nature

The UN is good for a few targets, goals and the latest leaders pledge for nature is better than most.

The leaders pledge for nature is an improvement on past commitments. It is closer to an admission of the real problem—massive population expansion from the energy and materials subsidy from fossil fuels—with some high-level suggestions that would improve matters.

People are nervous.

No surprise thanks to war, a pandemic, climate uncertainty and, where I live at least, some horrifying weather. Also, as a Pew Research Centre survey discovered, democracy is in strife, the social fabric is worn, and faith in institutions has faltered. 

All rather depressing even before we get to the environment that has been in decline for decades and seems no longer able to absorb human excesses. 

Some good news is a boon. So here is some from a surprising source, the Leaders pledge for nature

Launched before the UN summit on biodiversity in 2020, the pledge departed from decades of diplomatic rhetoric. In their opening remarks, the leaders say

We, political leaders participating in the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, representing 64 countries from all regions and the European Union, have come together today, on 28 September 2020, ahead of the Summit to send a united signal to step up global ambition for biodiversity and to commit to matching our collective ambition for nature, climate and people with the scale of the crisis at hand.

Well, not so earth-shattering, perhaps. 

We have seen bold commitments before. Remember, we are talking about the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15), where we get “in order to highlight the urgency of action at the highest levels in support of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework that contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and places the global community on a path towards realising the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity”

We are not sure what happened at the other 14 COPs that go back to the original Convention on Biodiversity signed in Rio in 1992, except that biodiversity loss continues. Leaders still don’t understand the importance of soil and soil biodiversity.

But we are talking good news, and the new leaders pledge for nature seems slightly different and optimistic.

Here are some of the better parts.

An accessible summary of the leaders pledge for nature

The pledge talks about integration. It mentions the need for finance from the private sector and sees the problem as everyone’s rather than blaming one industry or another.

After a prelude that emphasises how nature underpins all human wellbeing and health, sustainably FED can paraphrase the 10 keys of the leaders’ pledge for nature as 

  1. Make any recovery from COVID-19 green
  2. Develop and deliver a transformational post-2020 global biodiversity framework
  3. End silo thinking
  4. Transition to sustainable food systems that meet people’s needs while remaining within planetary boundaries
  5. Raise ambition in climate policies
  6. End environmental crimes
  7. Mainstream biodiversity into policies
  8. Address health and environmental sustainability in an integrated fashion
  9. Strengthen financial means of implementation with resources from all sources, public and private
  10. The design and implementation of policy will be science-based

At sustainably FED, we like it. Most of it, anyway, the rhetoric factor notwithstanding.

Green (1), framework (2) and climate policy (5) are the same old, same old, right out of the technobabble phrasebook. We are not so excited by these standard-issue claims.

Ending silo thinking (3) and mainstreaming biodiversity in science-based policy (7, 10) are excellent ideas so long as biodiversity is not a pseudonym for conservation, given the tendency to confuse essential terms. In our experience, ending silos and mainstreaming into policy will be tough but worth trying.

Transition to sustainable food systems (4) is our mantra for sustainable food, so we love that one.

Health and sustainability (8) is our mantra for sustainable diet, so we suggest starting with diet.

All societies should be looking to reduce criminal activity (6), and we recommend that this extends to punishing the externalities that the capitalist system is so good at avoiding.

Finally, we love the idea of innovative finance (9) which is also in our rhetoric.

There is much to like in the pledge, even at this high level.

wildebeest grazing on the African savanna
Photo by Pieter van Noorden on Unsplash

A few leaders failed to sign up

It is a pity that not all countries signed the leaders’ pledge for nature.

In Australia, the Morrison government refused to sign. They claimed that a global pledge endorsed by 64 countries committing them to reverse biodiversity loss because it was ‘inconsistent with Australia’s policies’, including a greater ambition to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

What sort of excuse is that from the country with the second-highest per capita GHG emissions? A poor one.

Apart from Australia, other countries that didn’t sign the pledge include the United States, Brazil, China, Russia and India. These four countries represent 3.5 billion people, some 45% of the global total.

A commitment by a little over half the people dilutes the collective ambition. Only some people elect or are led by leaders up for the challenge. Indeed, it makes a race to the bottom more likely than ever.
Then there is the reality of why biodiversity loss is an issue in the first place—given that we set dominion over nature as our excuse for the pursuit of excess and a failure to pull up our biological instincts to make more means that we don’t meet any of the targets we set.

They are a sop.

kangaroo looking back at the camera to ask about the leaders pledge for nature
Photo by Mark Galer on Unsplash

What sustainably FED suggests

Our pessimism must be infuriating, and we apologise. 

The leaders pledge for nature is an improvement on past commitments. It is closer to an admission of the real problem—massive population expansion from the energy and materials subsidy from fossil fuels—with some high-level suggestions that would improve matters.

Global diplomacy is indeed slow. In the case of biodiversity, it has taken 30 years to get to this level of understanding that acknowledges integration, that it’s everyone’s problem and that we need to throw money at solutions. But slow progress is better than being stuck or in denial.

We hope that the leaders pledge for nature triggers a strategy, not just a set of aspirations.

What has to happen is that youngsters, perhaps readers of this post, take this pledge and give it a Red Bull. Inject some youthful momentum into it. The fearless enthusiasm of youth would be our 11th and master key, the one to open all the doors.

Hero image modified from photo by Alfred Aloushy on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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