UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned humanity must stop “waging war on nature” at the United Nations’ first ever summit on the biodiversity crisis on Wednesday.
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.
“Humanity is waging war on nature. And we need to rebuild our relationship with it,” said Guterres.
“Wildlife populations are plummeting because of overconsumption, population growth, and intensive agriculture. And the rate of species extinction is accelerating with some one million species currently threatened or endangered.”
Earlier this month, the UN published a major assessment that found none of the 20 global biodiversity targets agreed 10 years ago with a 2020 deadline were fully met.
Guterres said governments must include nature-based solutions in coronavirus recovery plans, investing in forests, wetlands and oceans.
“Ten years ago, we secured commitments that should have protected our planet. We have largely failed. But where effort has been made, the benefits to our economies, human and planetary health are irrefutable. Nature is resilient and it can recover if we ease our relentless assault,” the UN chief said.
Wednesday’s online event gave more than 100 heads of state and government the opportunity to raise ambitions for the development of the 10-year-strategy.
Addressing the summit in a video message, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged global cooperation on the environment, saying countries were “passengers in the same boat”.
“The loss of biodiversity and the degradation of the ecosystem pose major risk to human survival,” Xi said, urging humanity to turn the planet into a “beautiful homeland”. Last week Xi pledged China would achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
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.
Britain’s Prince Charles told the event: “We are I’m afraid at the last hour. We know what we need to do… Let’s get on with it.”
The United States did not participate in the UN summit.
The world spends an estimated $80-$90bn on conservation each year, but studies show hundreds of billions of dollars may be needed to save ecosystems from collapse.
Environmentalist and British broadcaster David Attenborough on Wednesday led a campaign by conservation groups for the world to invest $500bn a year to halt the destruction of nature, saying the future of the planet was in “grave jeopardy”.
Attenborough’s new film A Life on Our Planet documents the dangers posed by climate change and the extinction of species.
“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,” Attenborough, 94, said in a news release.
“We still have an opportunity to reverse catastrophic biodiversity loss, but time is running out.”
Ahead of the UN summit, leaders from more than 70 countries and the European Union signed a pledge to reverse losses to natural habitats by 2030.
But leaders of some of the world’s worst polluters – Brazil, China, India and the US – did not sign the pledge.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg noted “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.