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Humanity Must End ‘Senseless and Suicidal War on Nature’

By Brett Wilkins | The Defender

As the UN on Thursday released a report on the triple emergency of the climate crisis, the destruction of wildlife and habitats, and deadly pollution, the head of the world body sounded the alarm on what he called humanity’s “senseless and suicidal war on nature.”

The UN’s Environment Program (UNEP) report, “Making Peace With Nature: A Scientific Blueprint to Tackle the Climate, Biodiversity, and Pollution Emergencies,” was introduced by Secretary-General António Guterres at UN headquarters in New York.

“I want to be clear. Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive,” said Guterres. “For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises — climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution — that threaten our viability as a species.”

“They are caused by unsustainable production and consumption,” he added. “Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It’s time to reevaluate and reset our relationship with nature. This report can help us do so.”

Among the report’s recommendations are carbon taxes; a redirection in the nearly $5 trillion in annual worldwide subsidies to sectors including fossil fuels, mining, industrial agriculture, and fishing “toward alternative livelihoods and new business models;” and reenvisioning indicators of economic performance so that the value of mitigating the climate emergency, preserving ecosystems, and reducing pollution count — not just GDP.

Additionally, the report asserts that “changes in patterns of consumption are critical to transforming food, water, and energy systems and can be achieved through altered norms in business and cultural practices.”

“Changing the dietary habits of consumers, particularly in developed countries, where consumption of energy- and water-intensive meat and dairy products are high, would reduce pressure on biodiversity and the climate system,” the report states. “These habits are a function of individual choices but are also influenced by advertising, food and agricultural subsidies, and excess availability of cheap food that provides poor nutrition.”

Robert Watson, the report’s lead author, told Al Jazeera that “vested interests” were thwarting many of the policies and actions needed to make peace with nature.

“We have subsidies for agriculture, for energy, for fossil fuels that are perverse,” said Watson. “They encourage the use of fossil fuels. They encourage the use of bad agricultural practices.”

“If we can get the business community to work with governments around the world, I’m optimistic we can start to move in the right direction,” he added.

Originally published by Common Dreams.




‘Seismic Shift’ in World’s Approach to Land Use, Wildlife, and Climate Action Needed to Avoid New ‘Era of Pandemics,’ Study Says

Deforestation is among the human activities which threaten to lead to another, more deadly pandemic, scientists say. (Photo: Matt Zimmerman/Flickr/cc) 

By Julia Conley | Common Dreams

Warning that without a “seismic shift” in how world governments approach the treatment of wildlife, land conservation, and public health, the planet could be entering an “era of pandemics,” a United Nations-backed report released Thursday emphasized that the ability to avoid more public health crises like Covid-19 is entirely within the human population’s control.

Resulting from an urgent virtual workshop attended by 22 experts from around the world, the report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services notes that more than five new diseases emerge in people each year, and each of these has the potential to develop into a global pandemic as the coronavirus did.

“We have the increasing ability to prevent pandemics—but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability.”
—Dr. Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance

The novel coronavirus has origins in microbes detected in animal species and is believed to have “jumped” from an animal to the human population in Wuhan, China, and human activity has made it dangerously easy for this sort of jump to happen again and again.

Scientists estimate that 1.7 million unknown viruses currently exist in mammals and birds and that up to 850,000 of them could potentially infect humans.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic—or of any modern pandemic,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and chair of the IPBES workshop. “The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use the land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production, and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife.”

To stop a new era of pandemics from emerging, the experts say, governments must work together to stop the exploitation of land and wildlife by profit-driven systems, which cause humans and animals to come into close enough contact for pathogens to jump to humans.

Unsafe contact between humans and wildlife would be reduced by conservation efforts to protect biodiversity and natural habitats, the promotion of “responsible consumption” and a reduction in “excessive consumption of meat from livestock production,” and climate action, the report reads.

“Climate change has been implicated in disease emergence (e.g. tick-borne encephalitis in Scandinavia) and will likely cause substantial future pandemic risk by the driving movement of people, wildlife, reservoirs, and vectors, and spread of their pathogens, in ways that lead to new contact among species, increased contact among species or otherwise disrupts natural host-pathogen dynamics,” the IPBES wrote.

According to the report, land-use change has been linked to the emergence of more than 30% of new diseases in the human population since 1960.

“Land-use change includes deforestation, human settlement is primarily wildlife habitat, the growth of crop and livestock production, and urbanization,” the report reads.

“The solution here seems pretty clear,” tweeted Dr. Scott Sampson, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, in response to the report’s section on land-use change.

The study includes a number of suggested reforms which could help to keep pathogens from spreading to humans, including:

  • Launching a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention to provide decision-makers with the best science and evidence on emerging diseases; predict high-risk areas; evaluate the economic impact of potential pandemics and to highlight research gaps.
  • Institutionalizing the ‘One Health’ approach in national governments to build pandemic preparedness, enhance pandemic prevention programs, and to investigate and control outbreaks across sectors.
  • Ensuring that the economic cost of pandemics is factored into consumption, production, and government policies and budgets.
  • Enabling changes to reduce the types of consumption, globalized agricultural expansion, and trade that has led to pandemics—this could include taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production, and other forms of high pandemic-risk activities.
  • Reducing zoonotic disease risks in the international wildlife trade through a new intergovernmental ‘health and trade’ partnership; reducing or removing high disease-risk species in the wildlife trade; enhancing law enforcement in all aspects of the illegal wildlife trade and improving community education in disease hotspots about the health risks of wildlife trade.
  • Valuing Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ engagement and knowledge in pandemic prevention programs, achieving greater food security, and reducing consumption of wildlife.

The cost of confronting global public health emergencies after they’ve arrived—including damage to economies around the world, healthcare costs, and vaccine research—is roughly 100 times what it would cost to prevent another pandemic, the IPBES said.

“We have the increasing ability to prevent pandemics—but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” said Daszak. “Our approach has effectively stagnated—we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.”

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‘Silent Spring Is Already Here’: Global Study Shows Nearly 25% Drop in Insect Population Over 30 Years

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

The largest-ever assessment of long-term insect abundance found that there has been a nearly 25% decrease of land-dwelling bugs like ants, butterflies, and grasshoppers over the past 30 years—a revelation that inspired fresh demands for urgent international action to tackle the decades-long, human-caused “bugpocalypse.”

“Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed underwater. They want to come up, while we keep pushing them further down. But we can reduce the pressure so they can rise again.”
—Roel van Klink,
lead author

The Guardian reported on the new assessment, published in the journal Science:

The analysis combined 166 long-term surveys from almost 1,700 sites and found that some species were bucking the overall downward trend. In particular, freshwater insects have been increasing by 11% each decade following action to clean up polluted rivers and lakes. However, this group represent only about 10% of insect species and do not pollinate crops.

Researchers said insects remained critically understudied in many regions, with little or no data from South America, south Asia, and Africa. Rapid destruction of wild habitats in these places for farming and urbanization is likely to be significantly reducing insect populations, they said.

The researchers found an average annual decrease among terrestrial insects of 0.92%, “which may not sound like much, but in fact, it means 24% fewer insects in 30 years’ time and 50% fewer over 75 years,” lead author Roel van Klink of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Leipzig University said in a statement.

“Insect declines happen in a quiet way and we don’t take notice from one year to the next,” he explained. “It’s like going back to the place where you grew up. It’s only because you haven’t been there for years that you suddenly realize how much has changed, and all too often not for the better.”

The researchers found insect declines—generally caused by habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticides—were strongest in the U.S. West and Midwest and in Europe, particularly Germany. “Europe seems to be getting worse now—that is striking and shocking,” van Klink told the Guardian. “But why that is, we don’t know.”

Data is less available for some regions, “but we know from our results that the expansion of cities is bad for insects because every place used to be more natural habitat—it is not rocket science,” he added. “This is happening in East Asia and Africa at a rapid rate. In South America, there is the destruction of the Amazon. There’s absolutely no question this is bad for insects and all the other animals there. But we just don’t have the data.”

Van Klink also pointed out that bugs in protected spaces like nature preserves are doing only slightly better, and “we found that very striking and a bit shocking—it means something’s going wrong there.”

The new study follows a major February 2019 assessment that, as Common Dreams reported, led one expert to warn that “if insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind.” The past year has seen more research about declines in insects and other species, and more warnings from scientists about biodiversity and mass extinction.

In January, 73 international scientists released a roadmap to battle the insect apocalypse, calling for aggressive action to combat the global climate crisis; cut back on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; limit light, water, and noise pollution; prevent the introduction of alien and invasive species; promote conservation efforts; and improve land management practices.

British biologist and author Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex helped develop that roadmap. In response to the new analysis, with which he was not involved, Goulson told the Guardian: “People should be as concerned as ever about insects. It is great news that some aquatic insects seem to be increasing, probably from a very low level. But the bulk of insects are terrestrial and this new study confirms what was already clear: they have been declining for many decades.”

Reporting on the new assessment sparked impassioned calls for action:

“We depend on the services of insect pollinators and predators to grow food, so it is essential that we create space for them to thrive and that we make the countryside safer for them,” CEO of the British conservation charity Buglife Matt Shardlow said in a statement. “It is also clear that strong regulatory legislation can reduce pollution levels and reverse biodiversity decline, we need similarly strong legislation to improve the management of terrestrial wildlife habitats and to reduce light pollution.”

Despite their bleak findings, researchers behind the analysis expressed optimism about the recovery of freshwater insects. Jonathan Chase of iDiv and Martin Luther University-Halle Wittenberg said in a statement that the freshwater insect recovery numbers “show that we can reverse these negative trends.”

“Over the past 50 years, several measures have been taken to clean up our polluted rivers and lakes in many places across the world,” Chase added. “This may have allowed the recovery of many freshwater insect populations. It makes us hopeful that we can reverse the trend for populations that are currently declining.”

As van Klink put it: “Insect populations are like logs of wood that are pushed underwater. They want to come up, while we keep pushing them further down. But we can reduce the pressure so they can rise again. The freshwater insects have shown us this is possible. It’s just not always easy to identify the causes of declines, and thus the most effective measures to reverse them. And these may also differ between locations.”

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23 Former Diplomats Urge Global Leaders to Adopt Paris-Style Agreement to Protect Biodiversity

The Barbary macaque (Macaca Sylvanus) is classified as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. (Photo: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay)

By Jessica Corbett | Common Dreams

Ahead of government negotiations scheduled for next week on a global plan to address the biodiversity crisis, 23 former foreign ministers from various countries released a statement on Tuesday urging world leaders to act “boldly” to protect nature.

“It is clear to us… that climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the excessive exploitation of natural resources are now threatening millions of species with extinction and jeopardizing the health of our planet,” says the statement. “The loss and degradation of nature jeopardize human health, livelihoods, safety, and prosperity. It disproportionately harms our poorest communities while undermining our ability to meet a broad range of targets set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The world has a moral imperative to collaborate on strong actions to mitigate and adapt to the current climate change and the biodiversity crisis. Ambitious targets for conservation of land and ocean ecosystems are vital components of the solution,” the statement continues. “Humanity sits on the precipice of irreversible loss of biodiversity and a climate crisis that imperils the future for our grandchildren and generations to come. The world must act boldly, and it must act now.”

A U.N. report released in May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that, as Common Dreams reported at the time, “human exploitation of the natural world has pushed a million plant and animal species to the brink of extinction—with potentially devastating implications for the future of civilization.”

That report and a growing body of scientific research on rapidly declining biodiversity have led scientists and policymakers alike to raise the alarm about the consequences of not acting ambitiously enough to address what experts have called the “sixth mass extinction.” U.N. biodiversity chief Elizabeth Maruma Mrema told the Guardian last month that humanity risks being left to contend with an “empty world.”

The new statement from diplomats came before the Feb. 24–29 meeting of the Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which was recently moved from Kunming, China to Rome, Italy due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. The event will build on an August 2019 meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The third meeting in Cali, Colombia is planned for July.

Those three events will culminate in the adoption of a “Paris-style U.N. agreement” to protect nature at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is still set to be held in Kunming in October. A 20-point draft plan to stop and reverse biodiversity loss worldwide, which will be a focus of the Rome talks, was unveiled last month.

The foreign ministers’ statement specifically expresses support for “setting a global target of strongly protecting at least 30 percent of the land and 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.” The 30 percent conservation target, as the statement notes, is backed by “a broad coalition—including youth, the business community, and representatives from the developing world.”

“We also support the finalization of a new international legally binding treaty in 2020 for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas currently being negotiated under the U.N. Convention on Law of the Sea,” the statement says, noting that nearly two-thirds of the ocean is beyond the legal jurisdiction of any one nation.

The statement was released through the international nonprofit think tank the Aspen Institute by members of the Aspen Ministers Forum, which was founded in 2003 by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Along with Albright, the statement was signed by Lloyd Axworthy (Canada), Mohamed Benaissa (Morocco), Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila (El Salvador), Erik Derycke (Belgium), Lamberto Dini (Italy), Alexander Downer (Australia), Jan Eliasson (Sweden), Joschka Fischer (Germany), Jaime Gama (Portugal), Ibrahim Gambari (Nigeria), Marina Kaljurand (Estonia), Tzipi Livni (Israel), Susana Malcorra (Argentina), Donald McKinnon (New Zealand), Daniel Mitov (Bulgaria), Amre Moussa (Egypt), Marwan Muasher (Jordan), George Papandreou (Greece), Malcolm Rifkind (United Kingdom), Claudia Ruiz Massieu (Mexico), Javier Solana (Spain), and Knut Vollebæk (Norway).

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