With Threats to Nature Mounting, Need for Government Action Grows

People depend on nature. It sustains the quality of the air we breathe, the fresh water we drink, regulates our climate, the quality of the soils in which our food grows, and is the source of many of our medicines. But nature is in trouble.

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), over the past 50 years the human population has doubled, intensifying demand for natural resources and energy from nature. In meeting that demand, humans have severely altered our terrestrial, marine, and freshwater environments, threatening species populations. However, we can still correct course.

To help marine species, the IPBES report recommends a wide range of actions including ecosystem-based fisheries management, reduction of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, mitigation of pollution runoff that creates marine “dead zones,” effective waste management to reduce and prevent plastics from entering the ocean, enlarging and improving effectively implemented coastal and marine protected areas (MPAs), and more.

It is clear from the report—and the abundant scientific studies supporting it—that a business-as-usual approach to conservation is not a viable option. Fortunately, global leaders are beginning to recognize that achieving and sustaining a healthy planet depends on keeping large parts of Earth in a natural state of interconnected protected and conserved areas. Governments are beginning to act: Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Palau, Portugal, the Seychelles, and the United Kingdom, have committed to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. This must become a global objective—with commitments from all 196 Member States to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity—when that body meets in Fall 2020 in China to set its biodiversity agenda.

To help lay the groundwork for the 2020 meeting, a coalition—calling itself the “Nature Champions” and comprising Ministers of Environment, indigenous leaders, business representatives, and heads of major environmental nonprofits—met in late April in Montreal to chart the course for an ambitious new plan to save nature.

There’s no sense in ignoring the data: Time is against us in this mission but with strong, ambitious, and persistent action, led by governments, the species responsible for this predicament can help save many others from a dark future.  

Masha Kalinina is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ initiative to protect ocean life on the high seas.

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