As the sixth mass extinction event accelerates around the world, engulfing thousands of animal and plant species, humans risk facing a similar fate unless drastic interventions are made, according to Cristiana Pașca Palmer, the United Nations biodiversity chief, who recently spoke with the Guardian.
Palmer said that within the next two years, countries have to develop an ambitious plan to conserve land, protect animals, and stop practices that are harming wildlife. This effort is equally as urgent as the Paris climate agreement’s goal of mitigating climate change, she said.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”
Next month, countries will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, to begin mapping out what such a plan would like. Palmer hopes that a final version will be formalized in Beijing in 2020.
If a binding global treaty fails to materialize, then humanity faces an uncertain future, she said. Past efforts to stop the loss of biodiversity have not proved successful, according to the Guardian.
In recent years, evidence of this staggering loss has begun accumulating.
Wild animal populations have declined by 60% since 1970, more than 26,000 plants and animals are close to extinction, nearly two-thirds of the world’s wetlands and half of all rainforests have been destroyed, more than 87% of the world’s ocean area is dying, and the planet needs an estimated 5 million years to recover from the biodiversity loss it has already sustained.
“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff,” Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF, recently told the Guardian. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”
“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ — it is our life-support system.”
The benefits of biodiversity are hard to overstate. The food chain, climate systems, atmospheric conditions, natural resources, and much more depend on the delicately structured interactions of ecosystems around the world.
The truly wild places in the world, meanwhile, are crucial to generating, cleaning, and distributing water around the world, and could help to mitigate the looming water crisis. These landscapes and marine environments also clean the air and act as carbon sinks, stabilize the global environment, and protect countries from natural disasters.
In addition to climate change, the biggest threats to biodiversity are deforestation, agriculture, over-development, and industrial pollution.
While Palmer sounded an urgent alarm bell while speaking with the Guardian, she’s hopeful that countries will recognize the threat of biodiversity loss and begin to take action.
The UN is calling for at least 30% of all land and 15% of all marine environments to be protected by 2030 and for targets to be lifted in the following years.
“Things are moving. There is a lot of goodwill,” Palmer said. “We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction. It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing. We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature.”