The large-scale destruction of nature increases the risk of future pandemics and worsens climate change, heads of the United Nations office for biodiversity warned on Thursday.
Their warning came ahead of a major global conference on biodiversity loss scheduled for next month in Montreal, where governments are trying to sign a new global agreement to halt biodiversity loss.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said the world must treat the destruction of biodiversity with the same sense of urgency it applies to climate change.
“Scientists have been very clear – our planet is in crisis,” she said Thursday during a briefing with reporters.
In Paris in 2015, almost every country in the world agreed to accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming.
Maruma said the goal in Montreal is to get agreement from most countries to take action to halt the decline of species and habitats by the end of this decade and to recover much of that which has already been lost by 2050.
“It is estimated that at least 90% of the world’s ecosystems have been modified to date,” she said. “More than one million species are currently threatened with extinction.”
David Cooper, the convention’s deputy executive secretary, said the ramifications of this are far-reaching and will affect human health and safety.
Extreme weather events are compounded by the breakdown of natural protections such as coastal marshes that help reduce storm surge energy during a hurricane.
“The pandemic has also highlighted and raised the profile of the importance of protecting the natural environment,” Cooper said. “People understand that something is wrong with our relationship with nature when we have this increasing risk of pandemics. And we know, in fact, that the more we destroy nature, the greater the risk of new diseases emerging. big.”
Studies have shown that as human development encroaches on wildlife habitats, there are more interactions between humans and animals, which increases the risk of animal-derived viruses spreading to humans.
Cooper said he believes the world’s population is finally ready to do something about habitat loss.
“This may be the time when nature, biodiversity, is being equated with climate change in the political realm, probably catching up with public opinion in many ways,” he said.
Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who is in Egypt for the annual UN climate talks on implementing the promises of the Paris agreement, wholeheartedly agrees.
“I think for a long time nature protection hasn’t gotten the attention it needs,” Guilbeault said. “I really think that’s changing and I think we’ll have very concrete proof of that in Montreal in just a few weeks.”
There are nearly two dozen targets in the draft biodiversity agreement on the negotiating table at the Montreal conference. They include protecting 30% of the world’s land from development by 2030 and halving the establishment of invasive species.
Others include reducing pesticide use, eliminating plastic pollution, and eliminating or reforming government subsidies that harm biodiversity.