A major United Nations report released Tuesday—especially as the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic—underscores the enormous threat of ongoing biodiversity loss and details eight necessary transitions to restore ecosystems damaged by and essential to humanity.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of the relationship between people and nature—and it reminds us all of the profound consequences [for] our own well-being and survival that can result from continued biodiversity loss and degradation of the ecosystems,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), said during a press conference to launch the new report.

The fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5) serves as a final report card on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that world leaders agreed upon in 2010 for the decade that followed. The latest version of CBD’s flagship publication comes ahead of a September 30 summit to be held on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly’s 75th session—which kicked off Tuesday—and amid efforts to finalize the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, set to be adopted at a meeting in China next year.

Since setting 20 specific goals at the meeting in Japan 10 years ago and the 2014 release of the fourth GBO, governments across the globe and other key actors have taken significant, meaningful action to address the international biodiversity crisis, Maruma Mrema said Tuesday. “But I need to be brutally honest,” she added: “in the final reckoning, the world has not met the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, nor are we on track to reach the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.”

The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 envisioned humanity working to and ultimately “living in harmony with nature,” with the hope that “by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored, and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet, and delivering benefits essential for all people.” Despite making notable progress on some targets, none of the 20 goals that were set in Japan have been fully achieved.

Emphasizing Tuesday that biodiversity is “declining at an unprecedented rate,” as shown by the GBO-5 and other recent accountings of human activity’s devastating impact on nature, Maruma Mrema called for all governments to scale up their national ambitions. She also expressed hope that pursuing the much needed societal changes outlined in the CBD report will lead to the emergence of a greener post-pandemic future for people and the planet.

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“Each of the measures necessary to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity requires a significant shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a broad range of human activities,” says the GBO-5. Specifically, the report calls for:

  • The land and forests transition: conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems, combating and reversing degradation, and employing landscape level spatial planning to avoid, reduce and mitigate land-use change.
  • The sustainable agriculture transition: redesigning agricultural systems through agroecological and other innovative approaches to enhance productivity while minimizing negative impacts on biodiversity.
  • The sustainable food systems transition: enabling sustainable and healthy diets with a greater emphasis on a diversity of foods, mostly plant-based, and more moderate consumption of meat and fish, as well as dramatic cuts in the waste involved in food supply and consumption.
  • The sustainable fisheries and oceans transition: protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems, rebuilding fisheries and managing aquaculture and other uses of the oceans to ensure sustainability, and to enhance food security and livelihoods.
  • The cities and infrastructure transition: deploying “green infrastructure” and making space for nature within built landscapes to improve the health and quality of life for citizens and to reduce the environmental footprint of cities and infrastructure.
  • The sustainable freshwater transition: an integrated approach guaranteeing the water flows required by nature and people, improving water quality, protecting critical habitats, controlling invasive species and safeguarding connectivity to allow the recovery of freshwater systems from mountains to coasts.
  • The sustainable climate action transition: employing nature-based solutions, alongside a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use, to reduce the scale and impacts of climate change, while providing positive benefits for biodiversity and other sustainable development goals.
  • The biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition: managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people.

“We can no longer afford to cast nature aside,” according to Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. “Now is the time for this massive step up—conserving, restoring, and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably.”

“If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land and sea use changes, overexploitation, climate change, pollution, and invasive species, and that will further damage human health, economies, and societies with particular impact on Indigenous communities,” Anderson warned at the Tuesday press conference.

“The Global Biodiversity Outlook that is being launched today,” she added, “spells out the transitions that can create a society living in harmony with nature.”

Echoing comments he has made throughout the pandemic, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized in a statement about the GBO-5 that “we have an unprecedented opportunity to ‘build back better,’ incorporating the transitions outlined in this Outlook and embodied in an ambitious plan to put the world on track to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity.”

“Part of this new agenda must be to tackle the twin global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in a more coordinated manner,” he said, “understanding both that climate change threatens to undermine all other efforts to conserve biodiversity, and that nature itself offers some of the most effective solutions to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet.”