As world leaders gather at COP15 to address mass extinctions, here's how the U.S. can meet the moment.
October 11 marked the start of a major UN Biodiversity Conference known as “COP15” under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Leaders from around the world have gathered virtually to begin the process of setting new targets and goals for addressing the global biodiversity crisis. The last set of biodiversity targets were mostly not met, and during the decade we were failing to meet those targets, the scope and scale of mass extinction only grew.
For example, the U.S. government recently announced the extinction of 23 more species. While some of these species had not been seen in decades, this announcement affirmed that they are gone forever – a heartbreaking move that recognizes we didn’t do enough for these species, and that others may be on the same path.
We need a new relationship with nature. Our fights for climate and environmental justice and to save species are intertwined. When we do what’s right for communities – protecting them from pollution, preserving the natural resources we need to survive and thrive, cutting carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – we are also aiding in the defense of nature. COP15 presents an opportunity to set a new direction for the entire world.
Notably absent at the highest levels of the conference, however, will be the United States. Shamefully, we are not a signatory to the convention and therefore our role is limited. But that does not mean that we can just sit on the sidelines; the Biden administration must take action to save the nearly 1 million species at risk of extinction. Here are five things the Biden administration can do right now that would step up the U.S. commitment to ending the biodiversity crisis and meet the moment on a global stage:
- Reverse harmful Trump administration regulations that undermined and hamstrung the Endangered Species Act on behalf of polluting and extractive industries. The Endangered Species Act is the last safety net for animals and plants facing extinction. The Biden administration has initiated the review process, but they need to move quickly and repeal the Trump regulations completely, not in a piece-meal way.
- Ensure our “30×30” commitment to protect 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 provides strong habitat protections for imperiled species and protects key landscapes for biodiversity and communities. See some examples here.
- Beef up implementation of the Endangered Species Act and reverse other harmful moves by the Trump administration, like the delisting of the gray wolf. Habitat loss is just one driver of biodiversity loss, and no matter how many acres we set aside, we still need tools like the Endangered Species Act to address threats to species.
- Drastically reduce bycatch – wildlife unnecessarily killed by fishing – by enforcing bycatch mandates in the U.S. under the Magnuson Stevens Act and ensuring that we only import seafood from countries whose bycatch measures are at least as strong as ours. Millions of tons of marine species are lost as bycatch every year worldwide, wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems.
- Increase funding, which partly falls on Congress. We need to pass a reconciliation bill that includes funding for natural solutions to climate change that also benefit biodiversity and communities, such as habitat restoration. We also need to increase the annual budgets of key agencies like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do things like address backlogs of Endangered Species listing and recovery needs.
The most comprehensive and efficient way to do all of this would be to establish a National Biodiversity Strategy – something other countries have already done under the UN agreement. A strategy could address our global commitments and get our own house in order, setting up a government-wide initiative to tackle biodiversity loss. We have the tools, like the Endangered Species Act and 30×30, to protect and restore nature for people and animals and to halt the biodiversity crisis that threatens us all, but we can and must do more.
Based in Washington, D.C., Addie is the legislative director for Lands, Wildlife, and Oceans in the Policy & Legislation department at Earthjustice.
Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.