Humans most dangerous species: countries miss targets to save nature

A burning area of the Amazon jungle is seen near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil, August 11, 2020. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino
A burning area of the Amazon jungle is seen near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil, August 11, 2020. Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

Every country in the world missed all of the targets they set themselves a decade ago to preserve nature and protect Earth’s vital biodiversity, the United Nations (UN) said Tuesday. 

Humans’ impact on the world over the last five decades has been catastrophic: since 1970, close to 70 percent of wild animals, birds and fish have vanished, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Last year the UN’s panel on biodiversity IPBES warned that one million species face extinction as people have already severely damaged three-quarters of land on Earth. 

In 2010, 190 member states of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity committed to a battle plan to limit the damage inflicted on the natural world by 2020.

The 20 objectives ranged from phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, limiting habitat loss and protecting fish stocks.  But in its latest Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), released Tuesday, the UN said that not one of these goals would be met.

“We are currently, in a systematic manner, exterminating all non-human living beings,” Anne Larigauderie, IPBES executive secretary, told AFP. 

Humans need to change
The coronavirus pandemic has prevented plans for two huge biodiversity summits this year: the COP15 negotiations and International Union for Conservation of Nature’s global congress.

Larigauderie said the global health crisis should serve as a wake-up call to world leaders. “We’re collectively better understanding that this crisis is linked to everything we wish to discuss at COP15,” she said.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, told AFP that societies were waking up to the importance of nature: “The situation with COVID-19 has demonstrated very clearly that deforestation and human encroachment into the wild have an impact on our day to day lives.”  

“The public has realized that the most dangerous species is us, human beings, and that they themselves need to play a role and put pressure on the industry to change.”

The GBO mentions ways to reverse nature loss by 2030, including sweeping changes to our farming system and reducing food waste and overconsumption.

Planetary emergency
A huge danger to nature is fossil fuel subsidies, which its authors estimated to be in the range of $500 billion annually. David Cooper, the lead author of the GBO assessment, said that there were segments of society with “vested interests” preventing governments from reducing support to polluting industry.

Reacting to the UN’s assessment, Andy Purvis from the Department of Life Sciences at Britain’s Natural History Museum, said it was “shocking” that the world was set to miss all 20 of its own nature protection targets.

“We have to recognize that we’re in a planetary emergency. If we carry on with business as usual, we will all be out of business,” Purvis said. “It’s not just that species will die out, but also that ecosystems will be too damaged to meet society’s needs.”

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