Political leaders from 64 countries participating in the United Nations biodiversity summit this week have signed a pledge which they say recognises the scale of the destruction currently being wrought on the natural world and signals an ambition to reverse biodiversity loss within the next 10 years.
The announcement, which also calls on others to step up global action to address the extinction crisis, comes ahead of the virtual summit, which will be hosted from New York on Wednesday.
“We are in a state of planetary emergency,” the pledge reads. “The interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change - driven in large part by unsustainable production and consumption - require urgent and immediate global action.
“Science clearly shows that biodiversity loss, land and ocean degradation, pollution, resource depletion and climate change are accelerating at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration is causing irreversible harm to our life support systems and aggravating poverty and inequalities as well as hunger and malnutrition.
“Unless halted and reversed with immediate effect, it will cause significant damage to global economic, social and political resilience and stability and will render achieving the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals impossible.”
Boris Johnson, who is one of the signatories and launched the initiative on Monday, said: “We must turn these words into action and use them to build momentum, to agree to ambitious goals and targets. We must act now - right now. We cannot afford to dither and delay because biodiversity loss is happening today and it is happening at a frightening rate. Left unchecked, the consequences will be catastrophic for us all.”
Mr Johnson also announced plans to protect 30 per cent of the UK’s lands by 2030, and said the government supported a “30x30” target to protect 30 per cent of land and ocean at a global level by the year 2030.
In the UK the plans mean an extra 400,000 hectares of English countryside will be protected to support the recovery of nature. National parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and other protected areas currently comprise 26 per cent of land in England, but despite that, just 8 per cent of land is currently protected for wildlife.
Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, set out the case for the 30x30 strategy.
He said: “I call on all leaders to commit to protecting at least 30 per cent of the planet by 2030. It is a goal that is firmly grounded in scientific evidence. We have already proposed to apply it for the European Union in our 2030 Biodiversity Strategy.
"I also call on all government and business leaders to significantly step up investments in nature and biodiversity.
"The 30% target backed up by strong financial support for nature is at the same time an environmental imperative and a great opportunity to improve our health and help our economies transition to a sustainable economy … We have one chance and one chance only to get it right … It can be done. It should be done.”
Prince Charles has also backed the goal to protect 30 per cent of the planet.
He said: “To have the impact required we must also think of scale. Global mega projects such as 30 per cent by 2030, the great green wall, Africa 100, the 2020 initiative and many others have the potential not only to improve natural capital, but also to increase opportunities in the green economy while improving sustainable livelihoods and local economic growth.”
António Guterres, United Nations secretary-general, said: “I commend the ambitious governments participating today that are calling for 30 per cent of land and marine resources to be protected by 2030.”
Leaders stressed the goals cannot be achieved without dramatically increased funding.
Gerd Müller, the German federal minister, announced Germany will increase its €500m (£450m) annual investment in protecting biodiversity in low- and middle-income countries.
UK environment minister Zac Goldsmith has also announced an increased spend on nature as part of the UK’s doubling of international climate finance, to £11.6bn.
He said: “There is no pathway to net zero emissions without ramping up our efforts to protect and restore nature on an unprecedented scale. Nature-based solutions could provide around a third of the cost-effective solutions we need by 2030, and yet they attract just 3 per cent of global climate investment. So governments need to step up. As COP 26 presidents, we are making nature a priority.”
He added: “Putting our money where our mouth is, we have doubled our international climate finance to £11.6bn. As part of this increase, we will be increasing our spend on nature and asking other countries to do similar.”
“We have no time to wait. Biodiversity loss, nature loss, it is at an unprecedented level in the history of mankind”, said Elizabeth Mrema, the executive secretary of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity. “We’re the most dangerous species in global history.”