Humanity is ‘making war on nature’, the UN boss has warned as urgent negotiations to slow the destruction of wildlife begin in Canada.
The big issues global biodiversity summit in Montreal is an urgent chance to “make peace” with nature, according to Antonio Guterres.
“Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction” by exploiting valuable species, dumping pollution and spreading dangerous invasive species, he added.
A million species are at risk of being wiped out, an unprecedented extinction caused for the first time by humans.
In characteristically sharp language, the UN secretary-general said we are “treating nature like a toilet” by poisoning our land, water and air with chemicals, pesticides and plastics.
It amounts to “suicide by proxy”, he added, pointing to the cost of losing vital ecosystems and essential species in terms of jobs, hunger, disease, water scarcity, energy and death.
Mr Guterres accused the multinationals of “filling their bank accounts while draining our world of its natural gifts”.
The death of valuable ecosystems is expected to inflict £2.4billion in losses every year by 2030.
Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, the government conservation agency, called it “more simply an environmental problem. It’s a major economic problem”.
Although many people once viewed the destruction of nature as “regrettable, but the inevitable consequence of economic development”, today businesses and legislators “see more and more that if we do not hold reverse the decline of nature, there will be very serious economic and social consequences,” Juniper told Sky News.
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Money and land rights are likely trouble spots
In negotiations on the nature of COP15, which are akin to the parallel COP process on climate change, a “high-ambition coalition” of nations, including the UK, is pushing for a deal to reverse the decline of nature by 2030.
This would include measures such as protecting 30% of land and seas by the end of the decade and requiring companies to assess and disclose their impacts on nature.
Such international talks are never straightforward, with money, indigenous land rights and the measurement of targets likely to be flashpoints.
There is a gap of at least $711billion (around £5.7billion) a year to pay for nature protection, according to a 2019 assessment by several conservation institutes.
The last two attempts to put in place global plans and goals have failed, with the world missing all 2020 goals from the last round.
Nature must be protected to achieve climate goals
Environmentalists say the goal of reversing nature loss would be the natural equivalent of the Paris Agreement’s climate target of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
They point out that a Paris-style treaty to protect land and trees is desperately needed, without which meeting climate goals would be impossible anyway.
Mr Juniper said the climate collapse “has tended to dominate the global environmental debate. It’s easier to explain. The consequences for people are much more obvious”.
He added: “The decline of nature – and what it means – is actually a bit more complicated, which has tended to keep it in the shadows. But that is changing.”
Nearly 200 countries will attempt to strike a deal over the next two weeks, although only one world leader – Justin Trudeau of Canada – is due to attend, unlike the dozens who flew to the COP27 climate conference.
Therese Coffey, Environment Secretary, leads the British delegation.
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