Dec. 7, 2022Print | PDF
As more than 10,000 delegates from 196 countries gather to create biodiversity targets for the next decade at COP15 in Montreal, Wilfrid Laurier University scholars will be doing their part to help ensure a biologically diverse future for the planet.
One of them is Laurier Professor Alison Blay-Palmer, director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems and UNESCO Chair on Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies, who will moderate the Dec. 8 COP15 side-event “Missing the Mark? Global Biodiversity Targets Risk Failure Without Agroecology and Agricultural Biodiversity.”
Delegates at COP15 – a gathering of parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – will work to negotiate and finalize a “Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework” to ensure a liveable planet for future generations, setting targets to halt biodiversity loss. The work is crucial and urgent, says Blay-Palmer.
“The world is at a crossroads for biodiversity loss and climate change. As the UNESCO Chair on Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies, my goal is to ensure that agricultural biodiversity is on the agenda as we move forward.”
Q: You are moderating the event “Missing the Mark? Global Biodiversity Targets Risk Failure Without Agroecology and Agricultural Biodiversity.” What are “agroecology” and “agricultural biodiversity” and why are they important?
A: Agroecology uses an ecological approach that prioritizes Indigenous, traditional, and local knowledges to growing food that conserves and protects biodiversity for our food system and ecosystems. Agroecology also supports fair livelihoods and helps to improve food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations describes 10 key elements for agroecology including diversity, knowledge co-creation and sharing, building food systems synergies, use of fewer external inputs including through recycling, resilience, human and social values, respecting culture and food traditions, responsible governance, and through circular and solidarity economies.
Agricultural biodiversity is all the species we can eat, including plant, land and water food sources. Agricultural biodiversity is important because the more options we have, the more resilient our food system is. Right now, the industrial food system relies on only nine species of crops for 66% of total crop production, from a possible 6,000-plus species. In addition, nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished and more than half have reached their sustainable limit. This is a very precarious food system with increasingly compromised biodiversity.
Q: These are obviously big problems. Where do you see potential solutions?
A: The good news is there are hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers around the world who practice farming like agroecology including pastoralists who steward the land and Indigenous or traditional fishers who protect biodiversity. We can build on their legacy of stewardship to halt biodiversity loss, protect ecosystems, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and foster fairer livelihoods.
Q: Who will be taking part in the event you are moderating and what kinds of information will these individuals be sharing?
A: We will have participants from non-governmental organizations from around the world who will share their experiences with seed saving; the role of women in agriculturally diverse food systems; the importance of directing subsidies from damaging farming practices to practices that halt biodiversity loss; and why agricultural biodiversity is key to the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework.
Q: How does information to be shared during the event you are moderating relate to the Global Biodiversity Framework that is a focus of the convention?
A: The side-event participants will connect their experiences to Target 10 of the Global Biodiversity Framework, which addresses the link between food systems and biodiversity loss. The Global Biodiversity Framework can be an international reference point to help us raise the profile of transformative, biodiversity-friendly food systems and halt biodiversity loss, so these first-hand experiences are critically important for imagining a way forward.
Q: How did you become involved with COP15 and what other activities will you participate in during the convention?
A: As the director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems and the UNESCO Chair on Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies, I have a long history of engaging in research on community-based biodiverse foods systems in Canada and internationally. I have participated in international meetings for nearly 10 years. COP15 is a chance to share what we know about how we can halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as help policymakers and the public understand that we have the pathways and tools to build more resilient food systems that protect biodiversity, the planet, and people.