The broad­caster and cam­paigner dis­cusses the re­cent UN re­port on na­ture’s dan­ger­ous de­cline, and in­vites your thoughts on the sub­ject.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Viewpoint -

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. The irony is that it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what hap­pens – whether we leave with a deal, crash out with no deal, or re­main – be­cause, if we ig­nore a re­cent, omi­nous re­port by the UN, then Brexit won’t even regis­ter on the scale of prob­lems ahead. It states cat­e­gor­i­cally that we are de­stroy­ing Earth’s nat­u­ral life-sup­port sys­tem at such an alarm­ing rate, our own fu­ture is in jeop­ardy. Now that puts things into per­spec­tive.

The Global As­sess­ment Re­port on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices is the most thor­ough plan­e­tary health check ever un­der­taken. Com­piled by hun­dreds of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tists, rep­re­sent­ing many dif­fer­ent ar­eas of ex­per­tise, its warnings are un­usu­ally stark for a UN re­port (which has to be agreed by global con­sen­sus).

The nat­u­ral world is un­rav­el­ling at a rate un­prece­dented in hu­man his­tory, it says. The hu­man foot­print is so large that we are leav­ing lit­tle space for any­thing else – in­deed, one mil­lion an­i­mal and plant species are now threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion in the near fu­ture. De­for­esta­tion, over­fish­ing, bush­meat hunt­ing, poach­ing, cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion and the in­va­sion of alien species are the chief cul­prits.

Con­sider a few facts from the re­port. The world’s pop­u­la­tion has more than dou­bled since 1970 (from 3.7 to 7.6 bil­lion). More than 100 mil­lion hectares of trop­i­cal for­est were lost dur­ing the pe­riod of 1980–2000. We have de­stroyed more than 87 per cent of the world’s wet­lands. Ur­ban ar­eas have dou­bled in less than a quar­ter of a cen­tury. More than one-third of

the world’s fish­eries are be­ing fished be­yond their bi­o­log­i­cal lim­its and most of the oth­ers are be­ing fished to ca­pac­ity. And so the cat­a­logue of de­struc­tion con­tin­ues.

The re­port ar­gues that we need ur­gent trans­for­ma­tive change across all ar­eas of gov­ern­ment and ev­ery as­pect of our lives. Val­ues and goals need to change. We have to face up to the fact that con­ser­va­tion – at least, this kind of life-or­death con­ser­va­tion – is go­ing to be pain­ful. It’s go­ing to re­quire sac­ri­fice and bags of money.

We must stop ob­sess­ing about eco­nomic growth. We need re­vised trade rules that ac­count for na­ture de­te­ri­o­ra­tion. Hun­dreds of bil­lions of pounds cur­rently paid out in sub­si­dies to the en­ergy, fish­ing, agri­cul­tural and forestry sec­tors need to be redi­rected to re­for­esta­tion and other in­cen­tives to pro­tect and re­store na­ture. We must ad­dress pop­u­la­tion growth and un­equal lev­els of con­sump­tion. We need new en­vi­ron­men­tal laws and stronger en­force­ment. We need greater sup­port for indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. And we need dra­matic changes in our own be­hav­iour, such as low­er­ing our con­sump­tion of meat and goods.

This time, we can’t get away with busi­ness as usual. There can be no more ex­cuses from economists, big busi­nesses and those with vested in­ter­ests. But this is no longer some­thing that con­ser­va­tion groups and volunteers can fix alone. Gov­ern­ments must heed the re­port’s warn­ing that we are ‘erod­ing the very foun­da­tions of our economies, liveli­hoods, food se­cu­rity, health and qual­ity of life’ and get on board.

It’s not im­pos­si­ble. Cli­mate change has surged up the po­lit­i­cal agenda since last year’s fright­en­ing re­port by the UN In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change. Why not na­ture in cri­sis? In­deed, the au­thors of this re­port pro­pose a Global Deal for Na­ture – much like the Paris Agree­ment to com­bat cli­mate change – aimed at pro­tect­ing 30 per cent of the planet by 2030 and half by 2050.

There is a chance to do just that at the UN Bio­di­ver­sity Con­fer­ence, to be held in China next year. It could be our last chance. We ig­nore the UN’s warnings at our peril.

MARK CAR­WAR­DINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifele­t­[email protected]­me­di­

S The hu­man foot­print is so large that we are leav­ing lit­tle space for any­thing else. T

Fire is used to clear land for agri­cul­ture in the Ama­zon, to the detri­ment of myr­iad species.

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