We’ve been ravaging the planet’s ecosystems for too long, but crucial decisions this year could be the turning point that help us restore our relationship with nature
17 February 2021
WE HAVE repeatedly been pressing the snooze button on the issue, but covid-19 has provided perhaps the final wake-up call. “2021 must be the year to reconcile humanity with nature,” said António Guterres, the UN secretary general, in an address to the One Planet Summit of global leaders in Paris last month. “Until now, we have been destroying our planet. We have been abusing it as if we have a spare one.”
The numbers are stark, whichever ones you choose. More than 70 per cent of ice-free land is now under human control and increasingly degraded. The mass of human-made infrastructure exceeds all biomass. Humans and domesticated animals make up more than 90 per cent of the mammalian mass on the planet. Our actions threaten about a million species – 1 in 8 – with extinction (see “Biodiversity: A status report“).
All that has happened in a blink of an eye, geologically speaking. “If you compare Earth’s history to a calendar year, we have used one-third of its natural resources in the last 0.2 seconds,” Guterres said in Paris.
Following a lost decade, and a year-long pandemic-induced delay to negotiations, a new international agreement to conserve the world’s biodiversity is due to be signed later this year, with many other initiatives also starting up. The signs are that covid-19, a scourge caused by our dismissive regard for nature, might finally have focused minds. The question is, what needs to be done – and can we do enough in time?
Our relationship with nature started to sour around the start of the industrial revolution, but only really veered off …