Everyone will lose unless humanity makes ‘peace with planet’, declares UN chief

The United Nations

Humanity is “waging a war on nature”, threatening biodiversity loss, climate disruption and escalating pollution, the UN chief said on Friday.

“We will all be losers if we don’t achieve peace with the planet”, Secretary-General António Guterres told a webinar ahead of the International Day for Biological Diversity, commemorated annually on 22 May.

“We should all be advocates for nature”, he said.

A dismal picture

Nature sustains life and provides opportunities, services and solutions, he explained, noting that “a healthy planet is critical for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.

Yet, biodiversity is declining at an “unprecedented and alarming rate”, and the pressures are intensifying, he warned.

“We have failed to meet any of our internationally agreed biodiversity targets”, the UN chief said.

He said one million species are at risk of extinction; ecosystems are disappearing “before our eyes”; deserts are spreading, and wetlands are being lost.

Every year, 10 million hectares of forests are lost, oceans are overfished and “choking with plastic waste” as the carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas, bleaching and killing coral reefs, he added.

And the total annual international public finance for nature is significantly less than the subsidies causing its degradation.

“We are depleting resources faster than nature can replenish them”, the UN chief continued.

Zoonic factor

The pandemic has highlighted the intimate relationship between people and nature, he said, while changes in land use and encroachment on wild habitats are the primary paths for emerging infectious diseases, such as the deadly Ebola and COVID-19 viruses.

“Three-quarters of new and emerging human infectious diseases are zoonotic”, jumping from animals to humans, and against this backdrop, the UN chief said that tackling the current COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity to recover better.

Biodiversity dividends

In this landmark year for restoring balance with nature, tackling the climate emergency and getting ahead of the pollution crisis, the UN chief underscored, “our efforts to protect biodiversity will be key”.

He said that solutions to the current crisis must expand opportunity, reduce stark inequalities and respect planetary boundaries, with “nature-positive investments and actions” to allow everyone to benefit from the “dividends of biological diversity”.

Later this year, governments will meet for 15th Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity (COP-15) in Kunming, China, to finalize a new global framework for biodiversity to protect nature, restore ecosystems and reset humanity’s relationship with the planet.

“It is essential that they succeed”, stressed the Secretary-General. “The rewards will be tremendous”.

Movement for change

There are many existing solutions to protect the planet’s genetic diversity on land and at sea, but they must be employed.

“Everybody has a part to play. Sustainable lifestyle choices are the key”, said the UN chief, calling sustainable production and consumption “the answer”.

Better policies that promote government, business and individual accountability are needed to give every person throughout the world the choice to live sustainably and be part of a movement for change.

“Let us all be part of the solution”, he said. “Together, we can halt biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and build a future where we live in harmony with nature”.

‘Demand better for nature’

In her Biodiversity Day message, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), spelled out that the planet’s challenges are “so acute that we don’t have the luxury of waiting around for someone else to step up and take action”.

She explained that UNEP supports countries in monitoring and managing their biodiversity “as best we can”; sounds the alarm on what science is saying regarding biodiversity loss and how to change course; and works with businesses and finance to help shift towards “nature-positive investments”.

The agency also works with decision-makers to factor in assets provided by nature to limit destruction caused by economic activity and mobilizes the entire UN system to support biodiversity through each of their mandates.

“When we demand better for nature, we get better outcomes for all people”, stated Ms. Andersen.

Become the solution

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), said that diversity of life on the planet is “declining more than ever before in human history”; plant and animal species face extinction; and “humans are overusing the Earth’s capacity by more than half”. 

Explaining that halting biodiversity loss would create the necessary conditions to achieve the SDGs, improve human health and address the climate emergency, she stressed: “Now is the time to change our relationship with nature”.

The CBD chief underscored the importance of a COP-15 compact to protect crucial ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, saying that by acting for nature, ”we can create a fairer, healthier and more sustainable world”.

“Are you part of the solution to save biodiversity? If not, I invite you. Become part of the solution for nature”, she concluded.

UN News Release. More on this here.