Britain Seals

Part of a grey seal colony on the beach at Horsey Gap in Norfolk, England, Sunday Jan. 10, 2021. A group monitoring the seals in the national park on England's east coast have recorded over 2000 seal births this season, with police patrolling the area to deter visitors during the current coronavirus lockdown. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)

PARIS — At least 50 countries committed to protecting 30% of the planet, including land and sea, over the next decade to halt species extinction and address climate change issues, during a global summit Monday aimed at protecting the world’s biodiversity.

About 30 leaders, government officials and heads of international organizations participated in the One Planet Summit, which was being held by videoconference because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Top US officials were notably absent, as were the leaders of Russia, India and Brazil.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, which was launched in 2019 by Costa Rica, France and Britain to set a target of protecting at least 30% of the planet by 2030, has now been joined by 50 countries.

A 2019 UN report on biodiversity showed that human activities are putting nature in more trouble now than at any other time in human history, with extinction looming for over 1 million species of plants and animals.

“We know even more clearly amid the crisis we are going through that all our vulnerabilities are interrelated,” Macron said. “Pressure on nature exerted by human activities is increasing inequalities and threatening our health and our security.”

“We can change the story if we decide to do it,” he added.

The one-day summit focused on four major topics: protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems; promoting agroecology, a more sustainable way to grow food; increasing funding to protect biodiversity; and identifying links between deforestation and the health of humans and animals.

The summit also launched a program called PREZODE which Macron presented as an unprecedented international initiative to prevent the emergence of zoonotic diseases and pandemics, which is already mobilizing over 400 researchers and experts across the world. The move comes as scientists suspect that the Coronavirus that first infected people in China last year came from an animal source, probably bats. “Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said. “With smart policies and the right investments, we can chart a path that brings health to all, revives economies, builds resilience and rescues biodiversity.”

Guterres also stressed that according to the World Economic Forum, emerging business opportunities across nature could create 191 million jobs by 2030.

Other leaders at the summit were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. China, represented by Vice Premier Han Zheng, agreed that “collective efforts” are needed.

The event, organized by France, the United Nations and the World Bank, took place without top US officials, as President-elect Joe Biden, a strong proponent of climate issues, does not take office until Jan. 20. During his campaign, Biden pledged to better protect biodiversity by preserving 30% of American lands and waters by 2030.

Monday’s talks sought to prepare negotiations on biodiversity targets at a UN conference on biodiversity in China in October, after it was postponed last year due to the pandemic. The UN’s global climate summit, the COP26, has also been rescheduled for November in the U.K.

A side conference on Monday focused on investment for Africa’s Great Green Wall project, which involves gigantic efforts to stop the Sahara Desert from spreading further south.

Participants welcomed the creation of a so-called accelerator, which is expected to release $14.3 billion over the next five years to finance the program. Launched in 2007, it aims to plant an arc of trees running 4,350 miles across Africa — from Senegal along the Atlantic all the way to Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.

Another initiative involves a new coalition of Mediterranean countries working to better protect the sea from pollution and overfishing.

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