London – A million species of plants and animals, including Asian elephants, orangutans and blue whales, are now at risk of extinction, according to the UN.
Last month, 70 world leaders signed the Leaders’ Pledge of Nature and vowed to take steps to halt the catastrophic decline caused by man.
There were three notable exceptions among those who did not sign – President Donald Trump, his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Their rejection was not a complete surprise. Not everyone has historically been willing to commit to stronger action on the environment ̵
Their positions increasingly confront them with much of the world, which says it will try to deal with the crises of climate change and the mass extinction of the planet’s biodiversity – the entire living world from the insects that pollinate our crops to the most the great whales in our seas and the trees in our forests.
Many leaders are now projecting a “completely different message” as there is growing recognition that the destruction of the natural world makes further devastating pandemics more likely, said Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.
There is also a growing awareness that our food systems and economic prosperity rely on nature and the realization that this is indeed “our last chance” to act, she added.
“These countless interactions of life are at the heart of the fundamental processes on which our food production systems rely, which stabilize our climate, making the planet habitable,” said Julia Jones, a professor at Bangor University in Wales, UK. “If the general public realizes exactly how bad it is, it will shock them. “
The United States, Brazil and Australia make up a large percentage of the planet’s land surface, especially in the case of Brazil, where some of its most important biodiversity is located.
Although the Amazon is home to 10 percent of known species, deforestation – primarily for beef farming – has increased at Bolsonaro by 2020, setting new burn records.
The global decline in wildlife populations is worst in Latin America’s tropics – including the Amazon – where it has declined by an average of 94 percent in just 50 years, according to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Meanwhile, Trump is monitoring the weakening of environmental standards, approving the lease of oil and gas to Alaska’s wildlife reserve, and reviewing the status of federally protected lands. It is also in the process of withdrawing from the United States – one of the few countries that are not parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – from the Paris Agreement.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, burning large amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas in the air. These gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming.
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Morrison heads a government that supports the mining industry, even though his country is suffering from a devastating forest fire season this year that has killed billions of animals.
Scientists have blamed climate change for the severity of the fires, but Morrison has tried to minimize its role.
Australia has agreed to meet its emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, but the country’s action so far has been criticized and ranks sixth below the 2020 Climate Change Effectiveness Index, which ranks 61 countries responsible for 90% of emissions in their climate change actions.
When asked why Australia did not sign the promise of biodiversity, Morrison’s spokesman said the country would not agree to other goals unless we could tell the Australian people what it would cost to achieve and how we would achieve it.
The US and Brazilian governments did not respond to requests for comment.
The absences of the United States, Brazil and Australia are linked to scientists, said Anne Larigoderi, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent body that provides policymakers with scientific assessments of the state of nature.
In just a few decades, the world has seen “a complete deterioration of nature at a rate and scale unprecedented in human history,” she said in a telephone interview from Bonn, Germany.
The urgency of the crisis was highlighted at last month’s UN summit, which sought to push for a new global nature agreement and saw leaders in more than 70 countries – including the European Union, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – commit to take action.
Trump did not take part until Bolsonaro invaded the Amazon, which he called “international greed,” in a speech at the UN summit on biodiversity on September 30.
The summit was a precursor to a gathering of world leaders at the UN Conference on Biological Diversity, known as COP15, to be held in Kunming, China, from October 15 to 28, but postponed to May due to the coronavirus pandemic.
World leaders last agreed on a decade of action on biodiversity in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, at COP10, but “none of the 20 biodiversity targets for 2020 have been achieved,” Larigouderi said.
China – which, as host of COP15, will be under pressure to push for action – did not sign the latest commitment without giving a reason. But President Xi Jinping used his speech at the September 30 summit to distance himself from countries refusing to join the global effort.
“Unilateralism does not find support, cooperation is the right way forward,” he said. “We must firmly safeguard the UN-centered international system and maintain the sanctity and authority of international rules to improve global environmental governance.”
Xi can keep big promises until COP15, where they will have more political impact, said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a London-based think tank.
Whether the necessary steps are taken will all come down to “political will,” Larigouderi said.
“Biodiversity issues are not national, they are cross-border,” Mrema added. That is why we really emphasize the issue of multilateralism, international cooperation and global solidarity. “