Photo: Kazakhstan citizens gather to demand a nuclear test ban at the Soviet nuclear test site near Semipalatinsk in August 1989. UN Photo/MB - Photo: 2021

Humanity Needs to Take a Course That Does Not Conflict with Nature

By Kwame Buist

NEW YORK (IDN) – The process of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic offers the chance to change course and put humanity on a path which is not in conflict with nature, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said January 11, urging greater efforts by everyone to protect biodiversity and step up action to counter climate change.

Guterres was addressing world leaders at the virtual One Planet Summit hosted by France, which came in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.

The One Planet Summit was launched by France, the World Bank and the United Nations with the aim of accelerating the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. Previous summits have been held in Paris in 2017, New York in 2018 and Nairobi in 2019.

In his address, Guterres outlined the consequences of abusing Earth and its resources, saying: “We have been poisoning air, land and water – and filling oceans with plastics. Now, nature is striking back: temperatures are reaching record highs, biodiversity is collapsing, deserts are spreading, [and] fires, floods and hurricanes are more frequent and extreme.”

Warning that “we are extremely fragile”, Guterres said that, combined with the devastating effects of COVID-19 and its socio-economic fallout, “as we rebuild, we cannot revert to the old normal.”

“Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course. With smart policies and the right investments, we can chart a path that brings health to all, revives economies and builds resilience and rescues biodiversity”, he stressed. 

Everyone must do much more

Guterres noted that innovations and nature-based solutions are especially promising and that preserving biodiversity also creates jobs. According to the World Economic Forum, emerging business opportunities across nature could create 191 million jobs by 2030, he added. 

At the same time, with a financing gap of 711 billion dollars a year until 2030 to meet global biodiversity targets, increased and sustained financing will be crucial to transition away from polluting sectors, Guterres said.

“The time has come to … align public and private financial flows with the Paris Agreement commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and integrate the goal of carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal decisions.”

The UN chief also urged support for the most vulnerable, who are already suffering the effects of climate change, such as the least developed countries and small island developing States.

“Everyone must do much more … We begin a new year under the sign of hope. Together, let us seize the opportunity to build a safer, fairer and more sustainable world,” he added. 

Opening the Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron declared that protecting and restoring biodiversity is “in our interest”. Alongside creating millions of jobs between now and 2030, the natural world offers many benefits, he said, adding that intact forests and ocean ecosystems can help meet climate targets by acting as carbon sinks. 

“Nature offers solutions for developing sustainable agriculture, for economic and financial services, helping us to preserve our heritage and cultures”, said Macron, who went on to outline four key priorities for action: protecting terrestrial and maritime ecosystems, to allow nature to regenerate; promoting agro-ecology to safeguard the environment, strengthen food security and reduce inequalities; mobilising public and private financing, which would support both climate action and protect biodiversity; and reducing deforestation, especially tropical forests, to protect species and human health.

The Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “In the past 12 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all many lessons. One of the most important is that the health of humans, animals and the planet that sustains us are intimately linked. More than 70 per cent of emerging diseases discovered in recent years are linked to the animal-to-human transmission. We have one planet – and one health.”

According to Marco Lambertini, Director-General of WWF-International, “the initiatives and funding announced at the One Planet Summit provide critical momentum on nature ahead of major global environmental agreements to be made later this year and, crucially, start the process of turning commitments into action. However, a step-change in both ambition and urgency is still needed if we are to secure a sustainable future for both people and the planet.

“Science tells us that our broken relationship with nature is increasing our vulnerability to pandemics, threatening our economies, and undermining our efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Never has the need for urgent action been clearer, but world leaders are yet to demonstrate that they have grasped the scale of the crisis at hand. We urge them to take the necessary steps to deliver a transformative biodiversity agreement in Kunming that secures a nature positive world this decade while supporting climate action.”

Kunming, the capital and largest city of Yunnan province in the People’s Republic of China, will host the UN Biodiversity Conference scheduled for May 2021. 

African greening initiative receives 14 billion dollars 

Meanwhile, also on January 11, the Great Green Wall initiative for the Sahel and Sahara, an initiative to combat desertification in the vast region, received a pledge of more than 14.2 billion dollars in new funding over the next 10 years, to restore degrading land, protect biodiversity and strengthen resilience. 

According to the UN Convention on Combating Desertification Secretariat (UNCCD), overall, about 33 billion dollars needed by the initiative to achieve its ambitious targets to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, the soil capture of around 250 million tons of atmospheric carbon, and creation of some 10 million green jobs for communities, by 2030.

Mohamed Cheikh El-Ghazouani, President of Mauritania and the Chair of Conference of Heads of State and Government of the Pan African Agency for the Green Great Wall, welcomed the announcement.

“The mobilisation of this additional funding through an innovative approach will certainly contribute to the achievement of the Great Green Wall goals,” he said.

Since its inception in 2007, the country-led Great Green Wall programme has planted billions of trees and supported tens of thousands of local households. Its path snakes along the southern margin of Africa’s Sahara Desert running from the Atlantic coast to the Red Sea. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 January 2021]

Photo: Screenshot of UN Chief addressing the UN Open Summit on January 11. Source: France TV04 /YouTube

IDN is flagship agency of the non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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