LONDON – According to the United Nations, one million species of plants and animals, including Asian elephants, orangutans and blue whales, are now endangered.
Last month, 70 world leaders signed the “Promise of Leaders for Nature” and promised to take steps to stop the catastrophic man-made decline.
Among those who did not sign were three notable exceptions: President Donald Trump, his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Their refusal was not a complete surprise. Everyone has historically been reluctant to step up the environment ̵1; and in fact, in the case of Trump and Bolsonaro, they have changed progress.
Their positions are increasingly opposed by much of the world, which says it will seek to address climate change crises and mass destruction of the planet’s biodiversity – a whole living world from insects pollinating our crops to the largest whales in our seas and trees in our forests.
Many leaders are now projecting a “completely different message” as there is a wider 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 an awareness that this is truly “our last chance” to act, she added.
“These countless interactions of life underlie the fundamental processes underpinning our food production systems that stabilize our climate, making the planet habitable,” said Julia Jones, a professor at Bangor University in Wales, United Kingdom. the public understands how bad it is, it shocks them. “
The United States, Brazil and Australia account for a significant percentage of the planet’s land area, especially in the case of Brazil, home to one of the most important biodiversity.
Although the Amazon is home to 10 percent of known species, deforestation – primarily for beef farming – has increased since Bolsonaro since 2020, setting new records for burning.
Global wildlife decline is strongest in Latin America’s tropics – including the Amazon – where it has shrunk by an average of 94 percent in just 50 years, according to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund.
Meanwhile, Trump has controlled the easing of environmental standards, approved oil and gas leases in Alaska’s wildlife sanctuary, and revised the status of federally protected lands. It is also in the process of removing the United States, one of the few countries that is not a party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, from the Paris Agreement.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, which when burned emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas. These gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming.
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Morrison heads a government that supports the mining industry, despite the fact that his country has suffered a devastating fire season this year, killing billions of animals.
Scientists blamed climate change for the severity of the fires, but Morrison tried to minimize the role it played.
Australia has agreed to emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, but the country has so far been criticized, ranking sixth in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, which says 61 countries are responsible for 90 percent of their emissions from climate change.
When asked why Australia had not signed a promise on biodiversity, Morrison’s spokesman said the country would not “agree to other goals if we could not tell the Australian population how much they will have to achieve and how we will achieve it.”
The US and Brazilian governments did not respond to requests for comment.
The absence of the United States, Brazil and Australia is of concern to scientists, said Anne Larigoderi, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, an independent body that provides policy assessments of nature.
In just a few decades, the world has experienced a “complete deterioration of nature on a 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 boost a new global environmental agreement and saw leaders in more than 70 countries – including the European Union, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – commit to action.
Trump did not participate, while Bolsonaro spoke on the Amazon, calling it “international greed”, speaking 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 Biodiversity, known as COP15, to be held in Kunming, China, from October 15 to 28, but postponed until May due to a coronavirus pandemic.
The last time world leaders agreed on a ten-year action on biodiversity was in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, at COP10, but “none of the 20 biodiversity targets for 2020 have been achieved,” Larigoderi said.
China, which, as a member of COP15, will be under pressure to insist on action, also failed to sign the latest pledge without giving a reason. But President Xi Jinping used his speech at the September 30 summit to distance himself from countries that refuse to join global efforts.
“One-sidedness is not supported, cooperation is the right way forward,” he said. “We must firmly defend the UN-oriented international system and uphold the sanctity and authority of international rules to strengthen global environmental governance.”
Sea may hold back key promises to COP15, where they will have more political influence, said Richard Black, director of the Department of Energy and Climate, an environmental research center based in London.
Whether the necessary steps are taken will be reduced to “political will,” Larigoderi said.
“Biodiversity issues are not national, they are transboundary,” Mrema added. “That is why we really emphasize the issues of multilateralism, international cooperation and global solidarity.”