UNITED NATIONS, Sep 30 (APP): UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Wednesday accused humanity of “waging war on nature” and called on world leaders to “change course and transform our relationship with the natural world.”
“One consequence of our imbalance with nature is the emergence of deadly diseases such as HIV-AIDS, Ebola, and now Covid-19, against which we have little or no defence,” he said,
while opening the UN’s first-ever summit on the biodiversity crisis,
A large number of heads of state/government and top officials are participating in the summit via video-link. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will address the meeting later today.
In his remarks, the UN chief said, “Degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue – it spans economics, health, social justice and human rights.
“Neglecting our precious resources can exacerbate geopolitical tensions and conflicts. Yet, too often environmental health is overlooked or downplayed by other government sectors”
Deforestation, climate change and the conversion of wilderness for human food production, he said, 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.”
One of the aims of the summit is to secure increased ambition for biodiversity, the Secretary-General noted, but despite repeated commitments, efforts have not been sufficient to meet any of the global biodiversity targets set for this year.
By living in harmony with nature, he continued, the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided, for the benefit of people and the planet.
Guterres raised the encouraging prospects of nature-based solutions: forests, oceans and intact ecosystems are effective carbon sinks, for example, and healthy wetlands mitigate flooding.
Economic systems, he continued, must account for and invest in nature which, currently, does not figure in countries’ calculations of wealth. The current system, he said, is weighted towards destruction, not preservation, but investing in nature would protect biodiversity and improve climate action, human health, and food security.
Protecting biodiversity and the environment can 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.
The Secretary-General 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 which, he said, send a strong signal to raise political ambition in the run-up to COP15 of the Convention of Biological Diversity.
“Where effort has been made”, he declared, “the benefits to our economies, human and planetary health are irrefutable.”
The President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, underscoring the high stakes involved in the issue of biodiversity, said,”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 jeopardizing food security, water supplies, livelihoods, and our ability to fight diseases and face extreme events.
“At a time when our collective health is top of mind”, Bozkir noted the link between healthcare and biodiversity: 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.”
The Assembly president re-emphasized calls for a “green recovery’ that addresses these concerns, and leads to a more sustainable, resilient world which, he said, would help unlock an estimated $10 trillion in business opportunities, create 395 million jobs by 2030, and encourage a greener economy.
Wrapping up his opening remarks, Bozkir argued that biodiversity should be protected from a moral, economic and existential standpoint, an act that is “an investment in the health of our planet, is an investment in our future; one that we leave for future generations.”
Speaking next, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram, said biodiversity allowed mankind to build great civilizations, providing nutrition, food, clean air and water, natural medicines and raw materials, and to survive, grow and prosper.
However, he said, demand for energy and raw materials has grown with the population, harming the environment, warning that “nature is fighting back”, and the impacts of biodiversity loss will be as devastating as climate change.
“Political will is critical to achieve change,” he said, adding that it could be mobilized through events such as the Summit, which is of “existential importance”.