“With our boundless appetite for uncontrolled and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction”hammered the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, at the opening of COP 15 on biodiversity, in Canada. Less known than its big sister, the COP on climate change, including the 27e edition took place in Egypt in November, however, it is of capital importance.
The UN summit, which opened in Montreal on Sunday December 4, poses a colossal challenge: to try, in less than two weeks, to seal a historic agreement, ” last chance “ to save species and natural environments from irreversible destruction.
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• What are we talking about ?
The finding is more than alarming. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the equivalent for biodiversity of the IPCC which works on the climate, a million species have already disappeared. Scientists estimate that 25-50% of species will have been wiped off the map by 2050.
And this does not only concern large wild mammals, birds and insects are just as concerned. Vertebrate populations have collapsed by 69% in less than fifty years, and 75% of the earth’s land surface has already been altered by human activities.
• What is the role of the man?
The Earth has experienced several mass extinction events in its history. The most famous, the Cretaceous, occurred 66 million years ago, lasted 2.5 million years and ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Around 11,650 years ago, towards the end of the Great Ice Age, the sixth mass extinction began with the disappearance of large terrestrial mammals (woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, saber-toothed tiger…).
If previous extinctions are linked to major Earth climate changes, this new extinction is the fastest of all. And for the first time, it is linked to man and his activities. Pollution, overfishing, deforestation, intensive agriculture or mining destroy the natural habitats of thousands of species. And global warming accentuates the phenomenon: way too fastit prevents species from adapting.
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• Homo sapiens, soon threatened?
By weakening ecosystems, this sixth mass extinction also has serious consequences for humans. Humanity is closely dependent on this biodiversity for housing, food and healthcare. The disappearance of certain insects, such as bees, would endanger agriculture, for example. If these insects were to be missing, 85% of the main crops could be impacted, indicated in 2021 the Itsap (Bee Institute) to the magazine cultivar.
Biodiversity also helps regulate the climate. The natural ecosystems absorb around 50% of our CO₂ emissionshelping to mitigate the effects of ongoing global warming.
In the long term, could man also be threatened with extinction? “I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that we cannot survive the disappearance of very many species. We have already proven that we can do it. Man has a strong ability to adapt. But, at the end of the day, I think we don’t want to know the answer to that question.”points out to the “ National Geographic » Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the Pulitzer Prize « The 6e extinction”.
• What to expect from COP 15?
This COP 15 is one of the last chances to “stop our war against nature”, said António Guterres. It is a question of concretizing an agreement on about twenty objectives, the main one of which aims to protect 30% of the lands and seas. Others provide for the restoration of natural environments, the reduction of pesticides, the fight against invasive species or the conditions for sustainable fishing and agriculture.
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The pressure mounts on the rich countries, summoned to finance the efforts of protection of the biodiversity of the developing countries, which demand a fund to implement the “pact of peace with nature”, under negotiation in Montreal.
“This summit is a chance that the world must not miss, probably the last for governments to reverse course and save our precious survival system”said Bernadette Fischler Hooper, head of advocacy at WWF, on Tuesday (December 6th). “Everyone is talking about compromise, but we are not moving fast enough”urged Inger Andersen, the boss of the UN-Environment.
However, the summit is taking place without the support of world leaders, who came in large numbers to the climate COP in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. It is therefore the Ministers of the Environment who will be responsible for bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion. The stated ambition remains to seal an agreement as historic as that of Paris for the climate, in 2015. But some fear possibly deliberate strategies to provoke a scenario similar to that of Copenhagen, where the Climate COP had experienced a resounding failure in 2009 .
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Faced with the sixth mass extinction, the “last chance” COP