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GBO-5 Ocean Highlights Final Assessment of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets in Marine and Coastal Areas and Transitions Needed for Ocean Sustainability

The Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) is the flagship publication of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It is a periodic report that summarizes the latest data on the status and trends of biodiversity and draws conclusions relevant to the further implementation of the Convention. The fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5) provides a final assessment of progress towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets as well as lessons for the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and transitions needed to realize the vision agreed by the world's governments for 2050 of ‘Living in Harmony with Nature’.

Here, we have highlighted the main findings of GBO-5 with respect to marine and coastal biodiversity. The full GBO-5 report is available here.

Aichi Biodiversity Targets

In 2010, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which includes 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These global targets were adopted with a deadline of 2020 and focus on different actions and outcomes needed to put the world on a path to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.

2050 Vision for Biodiversity: "By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people"
The 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted by the CBD Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2010 as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020

GBO-5 provides an assessment of progress towards the elements of all 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, based on available information.

Progress towards each element of the Aichi Targets is depicted graphically, as shown above. Each segment represents an element and the colour represents the progress made.

While nearly all of the Aichi Targets are relevant in some way to marine and coastal biodiversity, there are some specific elements of the Aichi Targets that are especially relevant to achieving a healthy, productive and sustainable ocean.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 3

By 2020, at the latest, incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socio economic conditions.

Summary of Target achievement: Not achieved (medium confidence)

Overall, inadequate progress has been made over the past decade in eliminating, phasing out or reforming subsidies and other incentives potentially harmful to biodiversity, and in developing positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use.

Element 1 = No change; Element 2 = Some progress
  • There been little progress in reducing global fisheries subsidies.
  • The value of harmful incentives as a proportion of all fishing subsidies increased between 2009 and 2018. Of the more than $35 billion USD provided as fishing subsidies in 2018, some $22 billion USD was spent on subsidies linked to overfishing through expanding the capacity of fishing fleets.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 6

By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (high confidence)

While there has been substantial progress towards this target in some countries and regions, a third of marine fish stocks are overfished, a higher proportion than ten years ago. Many fisheries are still causing unsustainable levels of bycatch of non-target species and are damaging marine habitats.

Elements 1 and 2 = Some progress; Elements 3 and 4 = No change
  • A third of marine fish stocks are overfished, a higher proportion than ten years ago.
  • Many fisheries are still negatively impacting mammals, birds and amphibians, and their habitats, through bycatch, mortality in fishing gear and disturbance.
  • However, where good fisheries management policies have been introduced, involving stock assessments, catch limits, and enforcement, the abundance of marine fish stocks has been maintained or rebuilt.
  • Notable successes have been achieved recently in reducing overfishing by addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Global trends in the proportion of sustainably-fished fish stocks (FAO, 2020)

Aichi Biodiversity Target 7

By 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (high confidence)

There has been a substantial expansion of efforts to promote sustainable aquaculture over recent years. However, food and agricultural production remains among the main drivers of global biodiversity loss.

Elements 1, 2 and 3 = Some progress
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of global food production, and its expansion has caused large-scale loss and destruction of coastal wetlands (especially mangroves), and pollution of soil and water. In recent years the proportion of feed coming from capture fisheries has declined, and of this, more is coming from bycatch.
  • Positive developments include the recent replacement of capture fisheries as a fish feed with bycatch, seaweed and microalgae, as well as the increased use of bivalve filter feeders to lower nutrient load and reduce water pollution
  • The sixth national reports submitted by CBD Parties generally pay much less attention to aquaculture than to issues associated with forestry and agriculture.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 8

By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (medium confidence)

Pollution, including from excess nutrients, pesticides, plastics and other waste, continues to be a major driver of biodiversity loss. Plastic pollution is accumulating in the oceans, with severe impacts on marine ecosystems, and in other ecosystems with still largely unknown implications. Actions taken in many countries to minimize plastic waste have not been sufficient to reduce this source of pollution

Element 1 = Some progress; Element 2 = Moving away from the Target
  • Recent estimates indicate that more than 10 million tonnes of plastic waste are currently entering the oceans every year, endangering fish, seabirds and other taxa.
  • The rate at which plastic pollution enters aquatic ecosystems is projected to increase by 2.6 times the level of 2016 by 2040, under a ‘business as usual’ scenario.
  • Public concern about plastic pollution has risen sharply in many countries, giving rise to policies and campaigns to reduce or prohibit single-use plastics. However, these efforts do not meet the level of action needed to sufficiently reduce plastics from entering the environment.
  • Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (“ghost gear”) is a particularly deadly form of marine waste impacting many threatened species, including through entanglement and ingestion. It also has impacts on sensitive marine environments, such as coral reefs.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 10

By 2015, the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimized, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (high confidence)

Multiple threats continue to affect coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems. Overfishing, nutrient pollution and coastal development compound the effects of coral bleaching.

Element 1 = Moving away from the Target; Element 2 = Unknown
  • Corals have shown the most rapid increase in extinction risk of all assessed taxonomic groups. More than 60% of the world’s coral reefs face immediate direct threats.
  • The highest levels of coral cover decline have been in the Caribbean region, currently classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, while reefs in the Western Indian Ocean have shown intermediate decline and are classed as Vulnerable.
  • Coral reef communities have shifted significantly in many locations: faster-growing species that create complex habitat for reef-dwelling species have been replaced by slower-growing corals more resistant to higher temperatures but offering less niche-space to other species.
Percent and probability of coral bleaching over time. For each boxplot the black horizontal line is the mean percent bleaching, and the boundary of the box corresponds to the interquartile range (25% and 75%). The sloping line is the probability of bleaching, shown on the right axis (IPCC, 2019).

Aichi Biodiversity Target 11

By 2020, at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.

Summary of target achievement: Partially achieved (high confidence)

The proportion of oceans designated as protected areas has reached the target for 2020 and may be exceeded when other effective area-based conservation measures and future national commitments are taken into account. There has been less progress in the qualitative aspects of this target.

Elements 1 and 2 = On track to achieve; Elements 3-6 = Some progress
  • MPA coverage has increased significantly between 2000 and 2020 from about 3% to at least 7% (including 17.2% of marine areas within national jurisdiction and 1.2% of marine areas beyond jurisdiction). And, commitments made by countries for new or expanded protected areas amount to more than 12.5 million km2 in the oceans.
  • Much of this increase is due to the establishment or expansion of extremely large MPAs in the Pacific Ocean (i.e., Marae Moana Marine Park and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument).
  • Progress has been more modest in terms of ensuring that MPAs safeguard the most important areas for biodiversity, ecological representativity and connectivity, and management effectiveness.
Global protected area coverage and future commitments. The dotted lines indicate the level of protected area coverage for each category if commitments are met (Gannon et al, 2019).

Aichi Biodiversity Target 12

By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (high confidence)

Species continue to move, on average, closer to extinction. However, the number of extinctions of birds and mammals would likely have been much higher without conservation actions over the past decade.

Element 1 = Some progress; Element 2 = Moving away from the Target
  • The proportion of marine species threatened with extinction ranges from 7.5% for selected families of bony fishes, to 30% of sharks and rays, to 33% of reef-forming corals.
  • Recent declines in marine species are slower than those of terrestrial species, but with a high level of uncertainty. According to the Living Planet Index, marine species populations have declined 8% since 2000, compared to freshwater species (44%) and terrestrial species (39%).
The Living Planet Index (LPI) showing trends for 2000-2016 for all ecosystems (global), and separately for marine, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. The Index is calculated relative to 2000 levels (Based on WWF, 2018).

Aichi Biodiversity Target 15

By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combatting desertification.

Summary of target achievement: Not achieved (medium confidence)

Progress has been limited, although restoration programmes are under way or proposed in many regions, with the potential to deliver significant gains in ecosystem resilience and preservation of carbon stocks.

Element 1 = No change; Element 2 = Some progress
  • There has been a surge in projects to restore coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, and coral and oyster reefs. These efforts have improved water quality, provided coastal protection and contributed to the mitigation of climate change (“Blue Carbon”).
  • Despite the successes, only a small proportion of such habitats have been restored. It is estimated that more than 800,000 hectares of mangroves have potential for restoration.
Cumulative reported marine restoration projects between 2000 and 2020. The number of oyster reef restoration projects is plotted against the right axis (Duarte et al, 2020).

‘Bending the Curve’ of Biodiversity Loss

Despite the failure to meet the goals of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, it is not too late to slow, halt and eventually reverse current trends in the decline of biodiversity.

Importantly, realizing the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity depends on a portfolio of substantial actions, implemented on a short timescale and involving a wide range of actors at all scales and across all sectors of society, each of which is necessary but none on its own sufficient.

Even the most intensive efforts in each of these areas will not succeed in ‘bending the curve’ of biodiversity loss, unless tackled together with other areas. For example, the most ambitious measures to conserve and restore ecosystems will fail to address biodiversity loss and food security unless equally ambitious steps are taken to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and adopt more sustainable diets.

Pathways to the 2050 Vision for Marine and Coastal Biodiversity

GBO-5 outlines eight distinct but closely inter-related transitions that are needed to put the world a path towards the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Transitions in each of these areas are fundamental to a realignment of people’s relationship:

  1. Use of land, forests and other ecosystems;
  2. Management of freshwater ecosystems;
  3. Marine fisheries and other uses of the ocean;
  4. Production of agricultural products from the landscape;
  5. Food system, including diets, demand, supply chains and waste;
  6. Footprint and requirements of cities and infrastructure;
  7. Interaction between ecosystems and climate change; and
  8. Multi-faceted connections between nature and human health

The “sustainable fisheries and oceans transition” recognizes the long-term dependency of marine food supplies and other benefits from the oceans on healthy ecosystems. Marine and coastal ecosystems must be restored and protected, fisheries, aquaculture and other uses of the oceans must be rebuilt and managed to ensure sustainability, and to enhance food security and livelihoods.

Timing of projected recovery of marine fishery stocks under alternative scenarios. The projections are shown for two scenarios for fisheries reforms (RBFM: full reform policy based on rights-based fishery measures aimed at achieving maximum economic yield, and FMSY: limited reform policy aimed at achieving maximum sustainable yield) compared to ‘business as usual’ (BAU) under two assumptions (BAU (all stocks: assuming that all stocks are subject to increased fishing pressure, and BAU(conservation concern: assuming that overexploited and fully exploited stocks are subject to increased fishing pressure.) The proportion of stocks above a threshold biomass level is indicated on the y axis. The size of the circles is proportional to the total harvest (Note the ‘lean years’ during the first years of the RBFM scenario). The profitability is shown in shades of colour from unprofitable (red) to profitable (blue) (Figure reproduced from Costello et al, 2016).

Key components:

  • Promote marine spatial planning and integrated management of marine and coastal development and marine activities.
  • Sustainably manage and rebuild fisheries, investing in robust stock assessments, fishery management plans with catch, gear and seasonal limits, and effective enforcement, redirecting subsidies away from capacity-enhancement, addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and improving the sustainability of distant water fleets.
  • Ensure the sustainability of aquaculture, applying One Health and ecosystem approaches.
  • Protect critical habitats, ensure that existing and new MPAs are adequately managed and complemented by OECMs.
  • Reduce pollution, addressing land- and sea-based sources of excess nutrients and plastic waste.
  • Control invasive species spread via marine pathways, including through ballast water, hull fouling and use of species in aquaculture.
Linkages among the transitions

While focused efforts are needed to enact the sustainable fisheries and oceans transition, it is critical to not lose sight of the fact that oceans are deeply connected to nearly all aspects of life on earth. Thus, the transition in the oceans must be implemented as part of a package together with the other 7 transitions. GBO-5 highlights just some of the many linkages between the oceans transition to other transitions needed to achieve a healthy and sustainable planet.

All information here is derived from GBO-5, which references various sources of information. For further information, please consult the full report, available here.