On September 30, world leaders convened virtually for the 2020 UN Summit on Biodiversity in New York under the theme of “Urgent Action on Biodiversity for Sustainable Development.” As expected, the summit addressed the COVID-19 and the overall relationship between humanity’s invasion and destruction of nature with zoonotic diseases, but it also focused on biodiversity as an essential part of humanity, through its provision of food, water, medicines and protection from extreme events. Earth.Org rounded up 11 noteworthy pledges and speeches from the UN Summit on Biodiversity. 

  1. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attacked “international greed” over the Amazon rainforest. He insisted that countries should have the right to use their natural resources, adding that “that’s precisely what we intend to do with the huge wealth of resources in the Brazilian territory.”
  2. More than 70 leaders and head of state from around the world have now signed the “Leaders’ Pledge for Nature,” including Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Boris Johnson. It entails a 10-point pledge to reduce pollution, adopt sustainable economic systems and eliminate the dumping of plastic waste in oceans by 2050. 
  3. Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno called on countries to self-regulate their fishing activities in the waters around the Galápagos islands, in a thinly veiled message to China after a mostly-Chinese fleet of 340 vessels descended on the biodiversity-rich region for squid in late July. The fleet had turned off their tracking devices, a common ploy to disguise illicit activities. 
  4. Chinese President Xi Jinping did not follow up on his surprise announcement last week at the UN Summit’s opening that China would reach carbon neutrality by 2060 and that greenhouse gas emissions would peak in 2030. 
  5. Conservationists and campaigners were not convinced by many of the pledges made by world leaders at the summit. Greta Thunberg dismissed the “the laughable, cynical empty promises and “pledges” still taking place.” 
  6. Indigenous leaders expressed dismay that plans to protect 30% of the planet by the end of the decade could threaten their people, with one activist saying it could be the “biggest land grab in history” while another said that only through “traditional knowledge can we guarantee the conservation of biodiversity and the reduction in deforestation needed to address climate change.”
  7. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called humanity “parasites” and urged world leaders to use the delay of the Kunming, China meeting as an opportunity to bolster ambitions. In particular, Sanchez says that the world must focus on ensuring that 30% of land and sea is protected by 2030, restoring 15% of degraded land and recognising the close link between people, plants, animals and their environment. 
  8. The Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that his government will explore an expansion of Ireland’s marine protected areas and will use its seat on the UN Security Council to link human conflict with the environment. 
  9. Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih referenced the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that “humanity is living with the consequences of our constant disrespect to nature.” He pledged to designate one island, one reef and one mango grove in each atoll as a protected area. The island country is phasing out single-use plastic by 2023. 
  10. Qu Dongyu, director general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) delivered a sharp rebuke to world leaders. He said, “Let me put it plain and simple: without biodiversity there would be no food. The loss of biodiversity undermines efforts to tackle poverty, and to halt biodiversity loss we need to radically change our economies.”
  11. Costa Rican President Carlos Quesada told the UN Summit on Biodiversity that humanity must focus on three areas to improve our relationship with nature. First, he says that we need to take responsibility and be self-critical by thinking about how our behaviour affects ecosystems. He is a proponent of economic development models that are based on human wellbeing, not just growth. Secondly, we must realise that we are not the most important beings on Earth and be humble enough to learn from nature. Finally, we must focus on equality by protecting ecosystems and decarbonising economies for the good of everyone. 

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