'We treat nature like a toilet,' says UN secretary-general at start of biodiversity conference

‘We treat nature like a toilet,’ says UN secretary-general at start of biodiversity conference

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres opened the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal this week with a stark warning about the widespread and continuing loss of animal and plant species, which he called “an orgy of destruction”.

“Humanity seems determined to destroy,” Guterres said Tuesday. “We are waging war on nature.

António Guterres blamed the degradation of the natural environment on the effects of human economic activities, particularly climate change, saying, “We treat nature like a toilet.”

“Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once thriving ecosystems,” he said in his speech to the conference, also known as COP15, which runs until December 19. “Our land, water and air are being poisoned with chemicals and pesticides, and suffocated with plastics. Our reliance on fossil fuels has thrown our climate into chaos – from heat waves and wildfires to parched communities by heat and drought or inundated and destroyed by terrifying floods.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stands at a podium.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the opening ceremony of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal on Tuesday. (Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Representatives from more than 190 countries are in Montreal for the conference, which begins Wednesday. UN officials hope this will result in global adoption of a framework that sets targets to reduce the causes of biodiversity loss, such as pollution, and provides funding for developing countries to protect their biodiversity and develop more sustainable economic alternatives to resource extraction and deforestation. .

All countries in the world except the Vatican and the United States are parties to the biodiversity treaty. In 2021, Senate Republicans refused to ratify it, fearing it would interfere with US sovereignty. The Biden administration will nevertheless send representatives to participate in the talks.

Just as the United Nations Climate Change Conference that recently concluded in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was known as COP27 because it was the 27th Conference of the Parties to the Convention- United Nations framework on climate change, the current COP15 in Montreal is the latest iteration of a conference of the parties to another treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The calamity of biodiversity loss is just as acute as the climate crisis. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2022, monitored populations of vertebrates, which include mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish, have fallen by 69% since 1970. According to WWF, the rate of species extinction today is estimated by experts to be 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural rate of extinction. A 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that up to 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction due to human activities.

A deforested and burned area of ​​dead trees is seen next to an unburned area of ​​living trees.

A deforested and burned area in Humaitá, Amazonas state, Brazil, on September 16. (Michael Dantas/AFP via Getty Images)

The nations represented in Montreal are expected to negotiate an agreement that will be known as the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which will operate similarly to climate change agreements such as the 2015 Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact 2021.

Signatory countries will agree to more than 20 measurable ecosystem conservation goals, the most important of which is to conserve at least 30% of Earth’s land and water by 2030, known as “30 by 30”. “.

As was the case at COP27 in Egypt, key sticking points include how to protect indigenous land rights – indigenous communities do not want conservation objectives to prevent them from using their lands – and how much money developed countries will give to developing countries to help them implement the Strategies.

The answer to these questions over the next two weeks remains to be seen, but Guterres is calling on nations to go as far as possible to address biodiversity loss.

“This conference is our chance to stop this orgy of destruction,” said António Guterres. “Move from discord to harmony. And to apply the ambition and action that the challenge demands.

“It is time to forge a pact of peace with nature,” he concluded.

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