Accusing humanity of “waging war on nature”, UN chief, António Guterres said that deforestation, climate change and conversion of wilderness for human food production are destroying Earth’s web of life.
“We are part of that fragile web — and we need it to be healthy so we and future generations may thrive,” he said at the UN Summit on Biodiversity, where activists and UN officials called for urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development.
Guterres said that the worst impacts of climate change could be avoided for the benefit of people and the planet by living in harmony with nature.
In his speech, the UN Chief also raised the encouraging prospects of nature based solutions: forests, oceans and intact ecosystems are effective carbon sinks. He pointed out that one of the aims of the Summit was to secure increased ambition for biodiversity. He also maintained that efforts have not been sufficient to meet any of the global biodiversity targets set for this year despite repeated commitments.
The UN Chief noted that economic systems must account for and invest in nature which, currently, did not figure in countries’ calculations of wealth. “The current system is weighted towards destruction, not preservation, but investing in nature would protect biodiversity and improve climate action, human health, and food security,” he told the summit.
He also mentioned that protecting biodiversity and environment could be a business opportunity. “The Convention on Biological Diversity estimates that services from ecosystems make up between 50 and 90 per cent of the livelihoods of poor rural and forest-dwelling households, and poor communities can benefit from sustainable farming, eco-tourism and subsistence fishing,” he said.
The UN Chief also welcomed the commitments made in the Leader’s Pledge for Nature and coalitions such as the Campaign for Nature launched at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019. He said that this sent a strong signal to raise political ambition in the run-up to COP15 of the Convention of Biological Diversity.
The UN Summit on Biodiversity was opened by General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir. He outlined the high stakes involved in the issue of biodiversity, stating that “our existence on this planet depends entirely on our ability to protect the natural world around us”.
“Despite the importance of biodiversity, we are not doing a great job at protecting it: 13 million hectares of forest are lost every year, and one million species are at risk of extinction. We also risk,” he said.
Noting that health was top of mind, Bozkir said that the four billion people depend upon natural medicines for their health and 70 per cent of drugs used for cancer treatments are drawn from nature.
“Poor stewardship of the environment is putting our health at risk, as the majority of infectious diseases, including Covid-19 originated from animal populations, a threat that scientists have been warning about for decades,” he said.
He also emphasised the calls for a “green recovery’ that led to a more sustainable, resilient world.
Bozkir said that biodiversity should be protected from a moral, economic and existential standpoint.