World leaders pledge urgent action to preserve nature

More than 60 countries commit to 10 actions to reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030

UNITED NATIONS (United States) • World leaders pledged to take urgent action over the next 10 years to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030 as risks to plant and animal life and fragile ecosystems increase by the year.

More than 100 heads of state and government addressed the one-day virtual United Nations Biodiversity Summit on Wednesday. They called for more action and bold steps to preserve nature and to avoid climate collapse.

"Humanity is waging war on nature. We need to change our relationship with it," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his opening speech. "Degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue. It spans economics, health, social justice and human rights."

At least one million species are currently threatened or in danger of disappearing. Meanwhile, a UN report last month outlined the world's failure to fully achieve any of the 2020 biodiversity targets set during a landmark conference in Aichi, Japan, a decade ago.

"The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development," China's President Xi Jinping 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 added.

Mr Xi surprised world leaders last week when he announced his country would go carbon neutral by 2060. On Wednesday, he defended the "UN-centred international system" and the Paris climate accord, in what appeared to be a swipe at the United States, which is set to leave the landmark agreement.

China is key to global climate action, and will host the Conference of Parties UN Biodiversity Conference next May in Kunming, where nearly 200 countries will negotiate a new agreement on protecting nature.

On Monday, more than 60 countries committed to 10 actions to reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030, including integrating nature protection into Covid-19 recovery plans, increasing financing to protect the natural world, and clamping down on marine pollution and deforestation.

The pledge was signed by the EU, Mexico, Bangladesh, Germany, Norway, Canada and others.

Notable absences were Brazil and Indonesia - two hot spots of deforestation - and China and the United States, the world's top two emitters of greenhouse gases.

Britain and Canada on Monday also joined the European Union in pledging to protect 30 per cent of their land and seas by 2030 to stem "catastrophic" biodiversity loss and help galvanise support for broader agreement on the target ahead of the Kunming meeting.

Scientists have said a minimum of 30 per cent of the planet must be safeguarded, through protected areas and conservation. A draft of the Kunming agreement includes this pledge.

END WAR ON NATURE

Humanity is waging war on nature. We need to change our relationship with it... Degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue. It spans economics, health, social justice and human rights.

UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES, addressing the one-day virtual UN Biodiversity Summit.

Without action, 30 to 50 per cent of all species could be lost by 2050, threatening economic and social prosperity, a report by The Nature Conservancy charity last month said. For example, losing bees and other pollinators could cause a drop in annual agricultural output worth US$217 billion (S$296 billion).

Yet, scientists and conservationists have long struggled to get governments and company boardrooms to understand the financial costs of damage to nature and the risks to economies. Conservation groups say governments and businesses must dramatically step up financing to halt the destruction of forests, mangroves, grasslands and pollution of rivers and oceans.

British broadcaster David Attenborough on Wednesday led a campaign by conservation groups for the world to invest US$500 billion a year to halt the destruction of nature. "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."

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2020, with the headline 'World leaders pledge urgent action to preserve nature'. Print Edition | Subscribe