Congress Urges Biden to Declare Extinction Crisis a National Emergency

A North Atlantic right whale and her calf. Image: NOAA/NMFS NOAA News

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

On Friday, nine Representatives introduced a bill that would direct the President to declare the global extinction crisis a national emergency. The Extinction Crisis Emergency Act would designate resources and agencies to evaluate and protect threatened species across the country and crack down on international endangered animal trade. Advocates say that the legislation would accelerate the Biden administration’s goal of protecting 30% of all U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Why This Matters: Scientists say that the world may be facing its latest “mass extinction event.” Over one million species are now threatened due to human activity, and some estimate that one-third of all plant and animal life may be extinct by 2070. Experts say that to quell rapid temperature rise and preserve biodiversity, the world must protect 30% of all lands and waters by 2030, but progress is slow. Designating this crisis as a national emergency could provide the resources needed to accelerate the nation’s conservation goals and meet the purposes of the Paris agreement.

This is especially pressing as leading experts recently warned that the climate crisis and biodiversity loss must be addressed together, not separately.

Every Tool in the Shed: The bill was introduced under the leadership of Representatives Marie Newman (D-Ill.) and Chuy García (D-Ill.).

The devastating effects of climate change pose an immediate threat to our surrounding wildlife,” said Newman. “Day by day, the number of animals in the U.S. facing extinction grows, creating a national emergency that needs to be addressed. Investing in the health of our wildlife is an urgent priority.”

By declaring the extinction crisis a national emergency, the President would be granted specific executive powers to combat biodiversity loss. The bill directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to review all imperiled species and protect them under the endangered species act. It also calls for supplemental funding for agencies to develop recovery and conservation plans and designate protected habitats. Trade penalties could also be implemented against countries that fail to make significant efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade and deforestation.

So far, 650 U.S. species have gone extinct, and many more are declining. Polar bears have begun moving south to mate with grizzly bears, and 200 North Atlantic Right whales have died in the last ten years, primarily due to human activity. Protecting the nation’s wildlife is imperative to meeting our climate goals, but advocates say that the President must take swift action. “The president has many tools at his disposal to halt the extinction crisis, but he needs to use them,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This legislation represents the bold, visionary action that’s needed right now to tackle the extinction crisis.”

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