LONDON – One million species of plants and animals including Asian elephants, orangutans and blue whales are now at risk of extinction, according to the United Nations.
Last month, 70 world leaders signed the “Leaders’ Promises for Nature” and vowed to take steps to stop the catastrophic man-made collapse.
There are three notable exceptions to 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. Everyone in history is reluctant to take stronger action on the environment ̵1; and in fact, in the cases of Trump and Bolsonaro, development is reversed.
Their stances are increasingly coming out of them against most of the world, saying it will try and address the crises of climate change and the extreme extinction of the planet’s biodiversity – the entire living world from insects that pollin our crops up to the largest sea whales and trees in our forest.
Many leaders are now delivering “a completely different message,” because there is widespread recognition that the destruction of the natural world makes pandemics more likely to be devastating, said Elizabeth Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity , said.
There is also a growing awareness that our food systems and economic development depend on nature and an realization that this is really “our last chance” to act, he added.
“So many interactions in this life are preceded by the basic processes expected by our food production systems, which stabilize our climate, making the planet studyable,” said Julia Jones, a professor. at Bangor University in Wales, in the United Kingdom, “If the general public realizes how involved it is, it will surprise them.”
The US, Brazil and Australia account for a large percentage of the earth’s surface and specifically in the case of Brazil, home to some of its most important biodiversity.
Although the Amazon is home to 10 percent of known species, deforestation – primarily for cattle farming – has risen under Bolsonaro in 2020 setting new records for combustion.
The population decline of global wildlife is most severe in the tropics of Latin America – including the Amazon – where it has dropped to an average of 94 percent in just 50 years, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund report.
In the meantime, Trump has handled a weakening of environmental standards, approved the leasing of oil and gas to an Alaska wildlife reserve, and reviewed the status of federal-protected lands. He is also in the process of withdrawing the US – one of the few non-party countries in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – from the Paris Agreement.
Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into combustible air. These gases capture heat in our environment, causing global warming.
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Morrison has led a government that supports the mining industry, despite his country suffering a devastating wildfire season this year, killing billions of animals.
Scientists have blamed climate change on the severity of the fire, but Morrison has tried to minimize its role.
Australia agrees on emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement but the country’s action so far has been criticized and is ranked sixth from below in the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index – ranking 61 countries responsible for 90 percent of emissions in their action on climate change.
Insisting on why Australia did not sign the promise of biodiversity, Morrison spokesman said the country would not “agree with other targets unless we can tell Australian citizens what the cost will be, and if how can we achieve this. “
The US and the Brazilian governments did not respond to requests for comment.
The absence of the US, Brazil and Australia concerns scientists, said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – an independent body that provides policy makers with scientific assessments of nature.
In just a few decades, the world has seen “a complete destruction of nature at a rate and scale unprecedented in human history,” he said in a telephone interview from Bonn, Germany.
The urgency of the crisis was highlighted at the UN summit last month which sought to build momentum towards a new global agreement on nature and saw the leaders of more than 70 countries – including the European Union, Britain, Canada and New Zealand – promised to act.
Trump did not participate, as Bolsonaro criticized what he called “international greed” in the Amazon in a speech at the UN biodiversity summit on September 30.
The summit was the prelude to a gathering of world leaders at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference, known as COP15, to be held in Kunming, China, from October 15 to 28, but postponed until May due to the coronavirus pandemic.
World leaders last agreed on a decade of biodiversity action in 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, on COP10, but “not a single one of the 20 biodiversity targets for 2020 has been reached,” Larigauderie said.
China – which, as the host of COP15, will be pressured to push the action – has not signed the latest pledge even without giving a reason. But President Xi Jinping used his speech at the summit on September 30 to distance himself from countries that refuse to join efforts around the world.
“Unilateralism does not find support, cooperation is the right way forward,” he said. “We must carefully safeguard the UN-centered international system and maintain the sanctity and authority of international policies to enhance global environmental governance.”
Xi could break key commitments up to COP15 where they would have a greater political impact, said Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a London-based environmental think tank.
If the necessary steps are taken all will be at least “political will,” Larigauderie said.
“Biodiversity issues are not national issues, they are cross border,” Mrema added. “And that is why we really ignore the issue of multilateralism, international cooperation and global unity.”