“Humanity at a Crossroads”: How Will Future Generations Experience the Natural World?

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Hopetoun Falls
Photo by DAVID ILIFF, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43330268

In 2009, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are our common home and adopted its first resolution on “Harmony with Nature.” It recognized that while Nature has been treated as a commodity that exists largely for the benefit of people, it is now necessary to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations. Since then, the UN General Assembly has adopted eleven resolutions on Harmony with Nature.

The most recent resolution (19 December 2019), requested the President of the General Assembly to convene the tenth Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature. The dialogue, which was scheduled to occur on 22 April 2019, was cancelled because of COVID-19. However, the “Concept Note” states that “The loss of biodiversity at unprecedented rates in human history is a benchmark of humanity’s failure to understand that we are an inextricable part of Nature. Ecosystems, species, wilderness areas, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. It is estimated that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. This decline will continue or worsen under current economic, social and environmental models and it is imperative to rethink our Human-Nature relationship.”

Not surprisingly, a new UN comprehensive report issued last week (15 September) on the state of nature points out that biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. The report (Global Biodiversity Outlook 5), published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), notes that none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be fully met, in turn threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermining efforts to address climate change. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets represent a UN strategy adopted in 2010 to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs. Under the Aichi targets, all signatories agreed to define national biodiversity plans, for example focusing on halting over-fishing, controlling invasive species, reducing pollution, minimizing the pressure on coral reefs from ocean acidification, and halting the loss of genetic diversity in agricultural ecosystems.

The overall Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 picture drawn from the national reports provided by 167 of the participating countries is one of progress, but at levels generally insufficient to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Indeed, only six targets have been partially achieved out of 20—and none have been fully achieved—by the 2020 deadline. The United States did not submit a report, as it is not a party to the treaty—it’s actually the only country in the world that has not ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat, said: “This flagship report underlines that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations.”

The report, however, features a few bright spots showing that it is possible to preserve and revive the natural world—extinctions were prevented by conservation strategies, more land and oceans were protected and, in well-managed fisheries, fish stocks bounced back. In addition, almost 100 countries have incorporated biodiversity values into national accounting systems.

Mrema added, “Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged. Nevertheless, the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying. Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity.”

It is unfortunate that, although there is much said about the Paris Climate Agreement, the progress of the equally deserving Aichi Biodiversity Targets doesn’t usually receive enough attention. However, addressing biodiversity with bold and interdependent actions is essential to ensure that future generations experience the wonders of the natural world we grew up with. As Mrema said, “We still need this planet to live on. And we still need this planet for our children. The decisions and level of action we take now will have profound consequences—for good or ill—for all species, including ours.”

Accordingly, the report calls for a shift away from “business as usual” across a range of human activities. It highlights eight transitions the world’s nations should focus on. Perhaps the most emblematic is the eighth on the list: “The biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition: managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people.”

1 thought on ““Humanity at a Crossroads”: How Will Future Generations Experience the Natural World?

  1. Ray KInney

    Well said Roberta! The current Covid 19 struggle for public health research, and societal wellbeing through increasing scientific research, may possibly spark new generations to focus on science as a priority toward improving outcomes for all of these dangers that are becoming immediate.


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