Blog: The Commonwealth is working toward a greener and healthier Earth

23 May 2024

The Commonwealth's new commitment to protecting biodiversity worldwide

by Akil Crichlow, Assistant Research Officer and Mxolisi Sibanda, Adviser, Climate Change 

Biological diversity, or commonly abbreviated to biodiversity, refers to the variety of life on Earth. This includes plants, animals, and microorganisms as well as the variety of other living things at genetic and ecosystem levels. Scientists estimate that there are around 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence, but there is still so much to explore, as only 1.2 million species have been identified and described thus far.  

A new commitment to biodiversity 

The Commonwealth's commitment to biodiversity stewardship is not a recent endeavour. Dating back to the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment in 1989, member states acknowledged serious threats to the health of the natural environment and resources. It noted the past neglect and proposed bold actions to protect our planet. 

This collective concern and recognition of the importance of our environment is demonstrated through aspirations captured in the Commonwealth Charter, which says:  

“We recognise the importance of the protection and conservation of our natural ecosystems and affirm that sustainable management of the natural environment is the key to sustained human development. We recognise the importance of multilateral cooperation, sustained commitment, and collective action, in particular by addressing the adaptation and mitigation challenges”. 

This commitment has been strengthened with the Blue Charter in 2018 and more recently, the Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, agreed at the Kigali CHOGM in 2022. 

International Day for Biological Diversity  

We are not alone in this concern for the sustainable development of our environment. Spearheaded by the United Nations, the global community commemorates International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) in May. It marks the pivotal moment when the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted.  

More recently, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) was adopted at the 2022 COP15 Meeting. The framework is complemented by an awareness-raising campaign, The Biodiversity Plan: For Life on Earth.   

The theme of this year’s Biodiversity Day, which was celebrated on 22 May 2024, urges us all to 'Be part of the Plan'. It calls on all stakeholders to take decisive action to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by supporting the plan.  


The Commonwealth’s role in restoring biodiversity  

The Commonwealth is home to exceptional diversity. Five of the 17 megadiverse countries, Australia, India, Malaysia Papua New Guinea and South Africa, are within our member union. Papua New Guinea, for example, is a prime example of unparalleled biological diversity. This remarkable region encompasses an impressive 5 percent of the world's terrestrial vertebrate species, all within less than 0.2 per cent of the Earth's land surface, where 4.5 per cent of the world’s known land mammals roam and call home. 

However, much of this ecological wonder is currently under various threats including, land use change – including for agriculture, unsustainable use of natural resources, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. Evidence suggests that 75 per cent  of the land and about 66 per cent of the marine environment have been significantly altered by our human actions — with one million animal and plant species being threatened with extinction. 

Oceans and land alike  

Managing ocean resources in the Commonwealth, including marine biodiversity, is a vital area of work for the Secretariat. In the 56 nations of the Commonwealth, 49 countries have marine coastlines, 45 per cent are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and 37 Commonwealth countries hold 45 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.   

Land is also an equally valuable resource for both the Small Island States. It is also home to significant biodiversity, since the Commonwealth spans nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the world's land area, including 11 million km2 of arable land.  

Under the newly-minted Commonwealth Living Lands Charter, which seeks to accelerate the implementation of integrated actions on land addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation, a lot of thought has been put into enabling conservation of biodiversity.  

The Living Lands Charter maps the 23 GBF targets covering climate-resilient agriculture, green cover and biodiversity, soil and water conservation, livestock, and Indigenous peoples. In addition, a Sustainable Green Cover and Biodiversity thematic area has been created to ensure concerted efforts to improve biodiversity conservation.  

Under this thematic area, The Commonwealth Secretariat is playing its role in supporting the formulation of new National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) that take into consideration the commitments made under the new Global Biodiversity Framework.  


The key areas of action  

A key area of action is working with countries to deliver financing through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH). Since its inception in 2016, CCFAH has supported 16 Commonwealth states to access climate finance to the tune of US$329 million, with additional funding in the pipeline. Of this amount, over US$189 million has been approved for projects that address some of the key drivers of biodiversity loss and improve the state of biodiversity.  

These projects include climate-smart agriculture; land use including forests; water; and capacity building for accessing climate finance. The Living Lands Charter builds on this foundation to further the goal of closing the biodiversity finance gap and ensuring sustainable outcomes for climate, people, and nature.  

Other actions are related to enhancing Nature-based Solutions (NbS), promoting the strategic role of green and blue spaces in urban areas, supporting countries to develop bankable proposals, closing the financing gap for biodiversity through innovative financing mechanisms such as blended finance, capacity building on various biodiversity-related issues, knowledge generation, and exchange.  

These actions are vital to making the ambition and aspirations of the Global Biodiversity Framework a reality across the Commonwealth and beyond. The Commonwealth has adopted a collaborative approach to this with partners, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat, to implement these.