The United Nations hosted its first-ever Summit on Biodiversity on Wednesday, capping off a number of events throughout UN General Assembly Week and coming in the wake of a series of reports describing the dire state of the natural world.
The summit brought together policymakers, activists, scientists, and companies to discuss the growing biodiversity crisis and how public and private sectors can work together to protect and save wildlife.
For a special session, Global Citizen invited partners and activists to discuss the importance of protecting and restoring biodiversity, and ensuring that nature-based solutions are a central feature in sustainable development.
South African TV presenter and Global Citizen Ambassador Bonang Matheba hosted the virtual special session, joined by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, president of the 75th UN General Assembly; Dr. M Sanjayan, president of Conservation International; Liz Agbor-Tabi, vice president of global policy at Global Citizen; Virginie Helias, chief sustainability officer at Procter & Gamble; and Clover Hogan, youth climate activist from Australia and founder of Force of Nature.
Bozkir opened the event with a stirring reminder of why everyone was gathered.
“Over 1 million species are currently threatened with extinction,” he said in a video message. “As the COVID-19 crisis has shown us, people, animals, and plants are all interconnected.
“I stand for nature because projecting our ecosystems is essential to our survival,” he said, referring to Global Citizen's environmental campaign, Why Do You Stand #ForNature?
Here are five key takeaways from the session.
1. The biodiversity crisis is accelerating.
A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund found that 21,000 animal populations declined by 68% since 1970. Another report warned that 1 million species are at risk of extinction in the decades ahead. Animals, plant life, bacteria, fungi, and everything else that makes up the natural world are endangered.
“Biodiversity represents all life, from the smallest microbes to the oldest trees in the forest to a tiger or an elephant — and it includes us humans, all of us,” Sanjayan said.
"Humans are destroying biodiversity at a ridiculous pace,” he added. “Imagine what’s going to be left for our children?”
2. Every global citizen has a role to play.
Although there are numerous ecological crises unfolding — from the ocean to rainforests to wetlands, and beyond — people still have the capacity to rise up and reverse the trends of destruction, according to Sanjayan.
During his video message, he called on viewers to pressure political and business leaders to make ambitious environmental commitments.
“Make sure that your leaders know how important protecting nature and saving nature is to you,” Sanjayan said.
“Make sure the businesses you support or walk away from understand that protecting their supply chain, biodiversity, and nature is good business and important to you,” he added.
3. Companies are focusing on sustainability.
Biodiversity is at the foundation of human survival and economic development. Without it, economies around the world will collapse. As a result, companies big and small are beginning to incorporate sustainability into their business models.
Helias spoke about P&G's extensive efforts to protect the environment through its partnerships and revamped supply chains. The corporation is focusing on nature-based solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss. P&G is also partnering with Conservation International to protect ecosystems and investing in smallholder farmers to ensure climate resilience.
“We protect the planet so human beings can be protected and thrive, and all the projects that we are running, we have committed to invest in natural climate, nature-based solutions, and one of these projects is protecting the Atlantic forests in Brazil,” Helias said.
She said the P&G brand Herbal Essences has a campaign to prevent 300 plant species from extinction.
4. The biodiversity crisis is systemic.
Climate change and biodiversity loss are often framed as a consumption problem, as something that can be solved at the checkout counter and online shopping cart. But in truth, according to Hogan, it’s a structural problem.
Countries currently exploit the planet’s natural resources at a level that exceeds its ability to regenerate. If this rate of exploitation continues and even accelerates, then the planet will no longer be able to sustain the global economy in the decades ahead. Countries have the opportunity to transform and repair their relationship with the natural world.
“I would argue that our problem is not people — we’ve coexisted with nature for a long time — but the systems in which we’re currently operating. The climate and biodiversity crisis is the symptom of a centuries-long history of exploitation of our natural world within this very economic capitalist philosophy, and it’s a history of exploitation, it's a history of commodification," Hogan said.
“What really needs to happen is that we stop valuing the tree for the table or the paper it delivers and we really start valuing nature from a place of interconnectedness and our inherent dependence on these environments,” she added. “Much of that begins with really sowing a deep ecophilia, a deep love and awe and appreciation for this natural world, because without it we are nothing. We are not separate from nature. We need to design systems in such a way that it’s not difficult to be responsible.”
5. Diversity and inclusion are key to overcoming environmental crises.
The only way to overcome the climate and biodiversity crises, according to Hogan, is by empowering Indigenous communities on the front lines, and insisting on diversity in all decision-making bodies.
The people most affected by climate change and biodiversity loss, she said, are oftentimes the most marginalized communities in the world. Climate justice is therefore fundamentally connected to social justice, she said.
“We will not solve these problems if we are not entirely inclusive and diverse in our approach,” she said. “We need to wake up to our interconnectedness, not just to nature but also to communities around the world.”