Mankind has become a ‘weapon of mass destruction’, UN chief tells Cop15 launch | Cop15

Humanity has become a weapon of mass destruction and governments must end the “orgy of destruction,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the start of the Biodiversity Cop15.

“We are not in harmony with nature. In fact, we’re playing a completely different song. Across the world, for hundreds of years, we have orchestrated a cacophony of chaos played with instruments of destruction. Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once thriving ecosystems,” he said.

“Our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides and clogged with plastic… The most important lesson we teach children is to take responsibility for their actions. What example do we set if we fail this basic test ourselves?

“Apart from the deluded dreams of billionaires, there is no Planet B,” Guterres said at the opening ceremony of the conference in Montreal, Canada, where governments will begin formal negotiations on the United Nations’ biodiversity goals for this decade on Wednesday.

At the ceremony, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged countries to agree on a target of conserving 30% of the earth for nature in the final agreement.

“We didn’t choose that 30% randomly. According to the greatest scientists, this is the critical threshold to avoid the risk of extinction and also to ensure our food and economic security. Thirty percent, that’s quite doable,” he said in a speech interrupted by protesters holding up a sign about the killing of tribal peoples.

Trudeau’s speech echoed comments by Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, a former environmental activist, who said the 30 percent target would be in line with the 1.5 degree climate target, although this is strongly disputed by some scientists and activists.

The target, known as “30×30,” is the most prominent proposal being considered by governments for the Biodiversity Accord this decade. Led by Britain, Costa Rica and France, it has the support of a coalition of more than 100 countries but faces significant concerns from some indigenous peoples and human rights activists, who warn it could legitimize further land grabs and violence against communities posing as have proven best protect nature.

“We are a big country with big ambitions,” said Guilbeault. “We have committed as a country to protect 30% of land and water by 2030. We work in full partnership with indigenous peoples as well as provinces and territories.

“One could argue, and I think I do, that our 1.5 degrees by 2030 will protect 30% of the countries and oceans. It is the biodiversity equivalent of 1.5 degrees in climate change. And I think that’s one of our common goals [for this summit].”

Guilbeault made the comments today at the opening press conference of the Biodiversity Summit, where he appeared alongside Cop15 President and China’s Environment Minister Huang Runqiu; the UN’s head of biodiversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema; and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program.

Mrema and Andersen said the summit could have major implications for tackling emissions from the land, the second largest human source of greenhouse gases after burning fossil fuels.

“If we look at recent disasters — floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires — yes, we always say it’s climate change,” Mrema said. “But where are these disasters that happen? They all happen in ecosystems. It is clear that unless we protect and restore biodiversity, global warming will continue to increase. And we could not reach 1.5 degrees.”

Ahead of formal negotiations for the deal at Cop15, which start tomorrow, talks received a significant boost from the EU when the bloc agreed to a ban on all products believed to have contributed to deforestation. The world’s second-biggest importer of agricultural products has enacted the rules that will affect trade in cattle, cocoa, coffee, palm oil, rubber, soybeans and timber products, all of which are linked to the loss of tropical forests.

“This legislation is a game changer for the world’s forests,” said Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth. “For the first time, European governments are telling companies that sell agricultural goods: ‘If you or your suppliers destroy forests, you cannot sell your products here.’ With this law, Europe is putting real action for wildlife on the table.”

However, Hurowitz warned that there are loopholes in the legislation, including failure to protect the rights of indigenous people and other important non-forest ecosystems such as peatlands.

The talks in Canada are due to conclude on December 19, but are likely to overflow as significant disagreements between the governments became apparent during the preliminary talks over the weekend.

At Tuesday’s opening press conference, Huang said China is serious about its role in helping countries forge a final deal, noting that it was a tough decision to move the talks from Kunming, China, due to the pandemic.

For more coverage of the Age of Extinctions, click here and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Gruenfeld on Twitter for all the latest news and features

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