A decade-long global effort to save Earth’s disappearing species and declining ecosystems has mostly stumbled, with fragile habitats such as coral reefs and tropical forests in more trouble than ever, researchers said in a report Tuesday.
In 2010, more than 150 countries agreed to goals to protect nature, but the new United Nations scorecard found that the world has largely failed to meet 20 different targets to safeguard species and ecosystems.
Six of those 20 goals were “partially achieved,” and the rest were not.
If this were a school and these were tests, the world has flunked, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which released the report.
Inger Andersen, who leads the U.N. environment program, called it a global failure.
“From COVID-19 to massive wildfires, floods, melting glaciers and unprecedented heat, our failure to meet the Aichi (biodiversity) targets — protect our home — has very real consequences,” Andersen said. “We can no longer afford to cast nature to the side.”
In a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon connected the problems to “a lack of global partnership and political leadership.” He said multilateralism has been under attack, citing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement as an example.
The U.N. team and report authors said the study is not meant to stoke despair, but to galvanize governments to take stronger actions over the next decade to protect the diversity of life.
“Some progress has been made, but inadequate progress. A lot still needs to be done,” Mrema said. “The key is to get the political will and the commitment.”
Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the new report, said it’s good that countries are getting together to examine their biodiversity goals but some of the targets are nebulous. Reducing “everything on the planet to single scores” obscures the fact that the picture may look different in different places, he said.
For years, conservation activists have used the polar bear as a poster child for species in trouble — especially those threatened by climate change, which the report connects to biodiversity loss. But Mrema and lead author David Cooper said the world should think about a different poster animal: humans.
“A lot of things civilizations depend on are certainly threatened,” he said.
The report was originally slated to be released at a U.N. conference to set biodiversity targets for the next decade, but the event in Kunming, China, was postponed until next year due to the pandemic.