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Imagine if you brought home a report card that showed failing grades in every subject. Now imagine having to explain to your parents that the dismal marks are a reflection of the fact you failed every single test and sometimes even answered every single question incorrectly.
Not. One. Passing. Grade.
As unlikely a scenario as that is in the real world of students, teachers, subjects and studies, it pretty much sums up how Earth’s population has fared recently in living up to its pledges to protect the planet’s biodiversity.
The scathing Global Biodiversity Outlook report issued by the United Nations on Tuesday states that the world has failed to meet any of the 20 commitments made a decade ago to confront a catastrophic collapse of the planet’s biodiversity. At risk are not only the existence of up to a million species of animals and plants, but also the food supplies, ecosystems and climates that allow human existence to continue.
"Humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy it leaves to future generations," the report declares. "Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying."
In 2010, after lengthy negotiations driven by intense scientific study, representatives from 196 countries met in Japan and signed onto an agreement that included the 20 aforementioned targets, which range in detail from the most simple and general (by 2020, making people aware of the value of biodiversity) to decidedly more detailed and complex (specific 2020 standards for conserving inland water and marine coastal areas, and for stopping overfishing and protecting endangered species).
Based on reports submitted by participating countries, the UN report states that only six of the 20 goals have been "partially achieved." An assessment of individual national reports suggests that on average, more than one-third of national targets are on track to be met, but 11 per cent have shown no progress and one per cent have actually shown further decline rather than improvement.
"These things are a sign of what is to come," is how David Cooper, deputy executive secretary of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, summed up the report, which he co-authored. "These things will only get worse if we don’t change course."
The report is not without optimism; it recounts numerous regional examples of initiatives that have proven effective in protecting biodiversity in defined local areas around the world. But it also points out that on a global scale, humanity continues to fall far short of the goals that a decade ago were declared crucial to the planet’s survival.
Time is running out. As wildfires ravage North America’s west and Australia’s southeast, arctic ice continues to melt at faster rates than scientists anticipated, and the planet continues to grapple with a pandemic that is believed to be linked to faults in humanity’s relationship with nature, another 10 years of relative inaction is not a viable global choice.
"Options are available to the global community that could simultaneously halt and ultimately reverse biodiversity loss, limit climate change and improve the capacity to adapt to it and meet other goals such as improved food security," the report states.
Given the woeful result of the past decade’s effort by the global community, one can’t help wondering if this glimmer of hope is offered in the UN report simply because the more realistic alternative scenario is too difficult to publicly contemplate.
At a certain point, after too many failing-grade report cards and an absence of any demonstrated willingness to learn, school will be out forever.
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