The United Nations Summit on Biodiversity convened on Wednesday with global leaders vowing to do more to protect nature following a devastating report which showed the world is failing to hit all targets to halt biodiversity collapse.
It lent an added urgency to the summit which had originally been due to take place this month in Kunming, China, but was delayed to 2021 due the coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak of Covid-19, a zoonotic virus which jumped from an animal to human, added another dimension this year, illustrating the potential risks to humanity if we continue on a destructive path through the natural world.
“We are reminded that when we destroy and degrade biodiversity, we undermine the web of life and increase the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to people,” the UN stated. "Responses to the pandemic provide a unique opportunity for transformative change as a global community. An investment in the health of our planet is an investment in our own future."
The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign, which was launched earlier this year, seeks an international effort to clamp down on poaching and the illegal trade of wild animals which frequently occurs in some of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots.
Earlier this month, the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 revealed the world had mostly failed to meet targets from previous talks intended to prevent more species from vanishing and to safeguard ecosystems.
Here are some key takeaways from Wednesday’s summit:
UN Secretary-General says ‘humanity is waging a war on nature’
UN chief Antonio Guterres opened the summit on Wednesday with figures on the perilous state of the natural world.
More than a million species were at risk of extinction, he said, adding that: 'More than 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are endangered due to overfishing, destructive practices and climate change."
He pointed to humanity’s place in nature’s “fragile web” adding that one consequence of our imbalance was the "emergence of deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS, Ebola, and now COVID-19, against which we have little or no defence".
“Humanity is waging war on nature, we need to change our relationship with it,” the Secretary-General said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping urges cooperation but no surprise announcement like on climate
The Chinese leader called for international cooperation to protect biodiversity but made no major environmental commitment.
It had been suggested that Xi might blindside fellow leaders again following his surprise announcement last week that China aimed to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and have emissions peak before the end of the decade.
"The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development," Xi said.
“Covid-19 reminds us of the interdependence between man and nature. It falls to all of us to act together and urgently to advance protection and development in parallel.”
He also defended the Paris Climate Agreement, an apparent dig at President Trump who intends to pull out of the deal if he is re-elected in November.
Brazilian president comes out swinging over ‘international greed’ in the Amazon
Brazil’s right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro, has long been defensive of his record in the Amazon, where fires are at the highest level in a decade. Today he lashed out at global concern that the Amazon rainforest is rapidly being destroyed by fires and industry.
"I strongly reject international greed towards our coveted Amazon," he said . "We shall defend it against actions and narratives that may prove harmful to our national interests."
Environmental advocates and scientists say that Mr Bolsonaro is to blame for weakening environmental protections and calling for the development of the Amazon.
But he criticized “unfair” international rules and said that Brazil had the right to use its natural resources.
“That’s precisely what we intend to do with the huge wealth of resources in the Brazilian territory,” he said.
Indigenous leader warns the plan to protect 30% by 2030 could be ‘biggest land grab in history’
Dozens of countries have signed a global pledge to protect 30 per cent of land and seas by 2030 in a bid to halt biodiversity loss but an indigenous activist from India warned the summit that it could be the “biggest land grab in history”.
Archana Soreng, who is part of the UN’s youth advisory group on climate change and a member of the Khadia tribe, said: "We should be the leaders of conservation, not the victims of it."
She urged global leaders to tread carefully when implementing protections that could result in human rights abuses if people were taken from their lands to protect nature, a move which she said would be “deeply colonial and environmentally damaging”.
David Attenborough calls for $500bn a year to protect nature
On the day of the summit, Sir David Attenborough announced a conservation campaign asking the world to invest half a trillion each year to halt the destruction of natural world.
The veteran broadcaster, 94, said: “Our natural world is under greater pressure now than at any time in human history, and the future of the entire planet – on which every single one of us depends – is in grave jeopardy.”
He added: “We still have an opportunity to reverse catastrophic biodiversity loss, but time is running out.”
The campaign was launched by environmental group Fauna & Flora International, and backed by more than 130 organisations. The goal is to pivot financing from fossil fuels and polluters into locally-led conservation.
The “Our One Home” campaign is “calling on global governments to commit an initial $500 billion to protect nature, with that amount increasing every year”.
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