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UN head opens COP15 with stark warning of declining biodiversity

Antonio Guterrez Image -

Antonio Guterrez Image -

UN Secretary-General António Guterres gave the following address at the opening of UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in Montreal, Canada, on 6 December. He is a practicing Catholic.

Nature is humanity's best friend.

Without nature, we have nothing.

Without nature, we are nothing.

Nature is our life-support system.

It is the source and sustainer of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the energy we use, the jobs and economic activity we count on, the species that enrich human life, and the landscapes and waterscapes we call home.

And yet humanity seems hellbent on destruction.

We are waging war on nature.

This Conference is about the urgent task of making peace.

Because today, we are out of harmony with nature.

In fact, we are playing an entirely different song.

Around the world, for hundreds of years, we have conducted a cacophony of chaos, played with instruments of destruction.

Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems.

Our land, water and air are poisoned by chemicals and pesticides, and choked with plastics.

Our addiction to fossil fuels has thrown our climate into chaos - from heatwaves and forest fires to communities parched by heat and drought, or inundated and destroyed by terrifying floods.

Unsustainable production and consumption are sending emissions skyrocketing, and degrading our land, sea and air.

Today, one-third of all land is degraded, making it harder to feed growing populations.

Plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates are all at risk.

A million species teeter on the brink.

Ocean degradation is accelerating the destruction of life-sustaining coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, and directly affecting those communities that depend on the oceans for their livelihoods.

Multinational corporations are filling their bank accounts while emptying our world of its natural gifts. Ecosystems have become playthings of profit.

With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction.

We are treating nature like a toilet.

And ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy.

The loss of nature and biodiversity comes with a steep human cost.

A cost we measure in lost jobs, hunger, diseases and deaths.

A cost we measure in the estimated US$3 trillion in annual losses by 2030 from ecosystem degradation.

A cost we measure in higher prices for water, food and energy.

And a cost we measure in the deeply unjust and incalculable losses to the poorest countries, Indigenous populations, women and young people.

Those least responsible for this destruction are always the first to feel the impacts.

But they are never the last.

Dear friends,

This Conference is our chance to stop this orgy of destruction.

To move from discord to harmony.

And to apply the ambition and action the challenge demands.

We need nothing less from this meeting than a bold post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework:

One that beats back the biodiversity apocalypse by urgently tackling its drivers - land and sea-use change, over exploitation of species, climate change, pollution and invasive non-native species.

One that addresses the root causes of this destruction - harmful subsidies, misdirected investment, unsustainable food systems, and wider patterns of consumption and production.

One that supports other global agreements aiming at protecting our planet - from the Paris Agreement on climate, to agreements on land degradation, forests, oceans, chemicals and pollution that can bring us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

And one with clear targets, benchmarks and accountability.

No excuses.

No delays.

Promises made must be promises kept.

It's time to forge a peace pact with nature.

This requires three concrete actions.

First - Governments must develop bold national action plans across all ministries, from finance and food to energy and infrastructure.

Plans that re-purpose subsidies and tax breaks away from nature-destroying activities towards green solutions like renewable energy, plastic reduction, nature-friendly food production and sustainable resource extraction.

Plans that recognise and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities, who have always been the most effective guardians of biodiversity.

And National Biodiversity Finance Plans to help close the finance gap.


Watch António Guterres' address here:


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