NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said humanity must stop “waging war on nature” at the United Nations’ first ever summit on the biodiversity crisis on Wednesday.
“We have to change course and transform our relationship with the natural world,” Guterres said.
He said one consequence of the imbalance with nature, caused by deforestation, climate change and food production, was the emergence of deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS, Ebola and COVID-19.
“Degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue — it spans economics, health, social justice and human rights,” the U.N. chief said.
“Neglecting our precious resources can exacerbate geopolitical tensions and conflicts. Yet, too often environmental health is overlooked or downplayed by other government sectors.”
The U.N. chief said countries had “largely failed” at protecting the planet.
Earlier this month, the U.N. published a major assessment, which found that none of the 20 global biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago with a 2020 deadline have been fully met.
Guterres said governments must include nature-based solutions in coronavirus recovery plans, investing in forests, wetlands and oceans.
Nature must be accounted for by financial markets, as the current system was “weighted toward destruction, not preservation,” he said.
Guterres urged world leaders to secure “the most ambitious policies and targets that protect” the natural world through the biodiversity framework to be adopted at the U.N.’s landmark COP15 biodiversity convention in Kunming, China in May.
Wednesday’s largely online event gave more than 100 heads of state and government the opportunity to raise ambition for the development of the 10-year-strategy.
“The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose major risk to human survival,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said, urging humanity to turn the planet into a “beautiful homeland.”
However, Xi did not make another major announcement, after pledging last week that China would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
“We need to turn the tide on a global scale,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that states must expand protected areas, restore ecosystems, and use land and sea more sustainably.
“Although we have an almost negligible historical responsibility, we are at the forefront in the fight against climate change,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asserted.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a more unusual approach to calling for action, urging the summit to “consider the pangolin — that scaly mammalian miracle of evolution boasting a prehensile tongue that is somehow attached to its pelvis.”
“I don’t believe any of us would choose to bequeath a planet on which such a wonderfully bizarre little creature is as unfamiliar to future generations as dinosaurs and dodos are to us today,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said “2021 must be the year of action,” while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen reaffirmed her commitment to the new global biodiversity framework.
The leaders of Peru, Poland and South Africa were also among those to address the oversubscribed event, while the United States was not participating.
Ahead of the summit, leaders from more than 70 countries and the European Union signed a pledge to reverse losses to natural habitats by 2030.
The commitments included ending unregulated fishing, eliminating plastic leakage to the ocean by 2050, and stopping the illicit trafficking of wildlife.
But leaders of some of the world’s worst polluters — Brazil, China, India and the U.S. — did not sign the pledge.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg noted that “it’s so easy to pledge.”
“Everyone wants to save nature and save the climate. When it comes to real action however, they fail every single time,” she tweeted.
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