Britain and other countries face a collapse of their economies and loss of culture if they do not protect the environment better, the world’s leading champion of nature has warned.
“What we are seeing today is a total disaster,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, the secretary-general of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. “No country has met its targets to protect nature. We are losing biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. If current levels [of destruction] go on we will reach a tipping point very soon. The future of the planet now depends on governments taking action in the next few years.”
Industrialisation, population growth, the spread of cities and farms and climate change are all now threatening the fundamentals of life itself, said Djoghlaf, in London before a key UN meeting where governments are expected to sign up to a more ambitious agreement to protect nature.
“Many plans were developed in the 1990s to protect biodiversity but they are still sitting on the shelves of ministries. Countries were legally obliged to act, but only 140 have even submitted plans and only 16 have revised their plans since 1993. Governments must now put their houses in order,” he said.
According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago. Around 15% of mammal species and 11% of bird species are classified as threatened with extinction.
Djoghlaf warned Britain and other countries not to cut nature protection in the recession. In a reference to expected 40% cuts to Britain’s department of the environment spending, he said: “It would be very short-sighted to cut biodiversity spending. You may well save a few pounds now but you will lose billions later. Biodiversity is your natural asset. The more you lose it, the more you lose your cultural assets too.”
He urged governments to invest in nature. “If you do not, you will pay very heavily later. You will be out of business if you miss the green train.”