Special World Wildlife Day Interview with Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the IPBES

Dr. Anne Larigauderie is the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which is the intergovernmental body that assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society, in response to requests from decision-makers.

ODP:  Today is World Wildlife Day. And we are at a critical juncture for conserving nature. We are at risk of an extinction crisis. Why? 

AL: Biodiversity provides many contributions on which all people depend. It helps, for example, to regulate the climate, provides pollination and pest control and reduces the impact of natural hazards. But nature’s contributions to people have too often been taken for granted and we are now eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. Primarily this is due to negative trends in land and sea use (e.g. deforestation), direct exploitation of our resources (e.g. overfishing), climate change, pollution (e.g. pesticides, heavy metals), and the growing prevalence of invasive alien species. All of these ‘direct drivers’ result from indirect societal causes, such as population dynamics, production and consumption patterns and governance issues, which in turn are grounded in values and behaviors.

ODP:  Last year your organization the IPBES published a report that found that 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. How sure are you about the scale of the crisis?

AL: We are very sure. The best available evidence, gathered by the world’s leading experts, points to a clear and undeniable conclusion that the natural world is being lost at unprecedented rates in human history and that, unequivocally, it is people who have caused ecosystems around the world to decline in extent and condition by nearly 50% from their natural baselines. The current extinction rates are at least tens to hundreds of times higher than the estimated average over the last 10 million years – and this is accelerating. More than half a million terrestrial species currently have insufficient habitat for long-term survival. This means that without restoration of their habitat, these plants and animals are already on track to extinction.

ODP:  What was the public response to this news? 

AL: The response to this alarming news, that 1 million species of plants and animals are currently threatened by extinction (out of an estimated 8 million species), has been an outcry for urgent action. Leaders at every level have emerged to champion nature and the rich biodiversity of life on Earth – such as the G7 and G20, celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Billie Eilish, and politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Citizens – especially young people around the world – are calling for action to protect nature alongside protests for climate action, particularly as the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity convenes this year to create a new global agreement to protect biodiversity to 2030 and beyond.

ODP: Last week the CBD had its first meeting to negotiate a formal agreement on 30×30. Did the first session make progress?

AL: Encouraging progress was made – but there is much that still remains to be done. The CBD Parties and a wide range of other stakeholders provided inputs on the ‘zero’ draft of the post-2020 biodiversity framework, which incorporates many targets with regards to the conservation and restoration of nature to be reached by 2030. The IPBES Global Assessment evaluated the global progress toward achieving the 2011-2020 CBD Aichi Biodiversity Targets and found that efforts to formally protect 10% of marine and 17% of terrestrial areas were some of the few elements which had shown good progress. There are many elements to the previous biodiversity targets which showed poor or negative progress, which must not be overlooked, such as a reduction of environmentally harmful subsidies or integration of biodiversity concerns across sectors and government departments.

ODP: How optimistic are you that we can build the global political will to protect the planet and prevent another mass extinction event? What gives you hope?

AL: After the May 2019 release of the IPBES Global Assessment Report, the unprecedented attention in the media and from policymakers means that no one can say they did not know what is happening to nature. There are many reasons to be more optimistic now than at any point in recent decades. Many early adopters, particularly in the business community, are facing facts and choosing to address the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss together. There exists today an interesting consensus between scientists, young people and some of the most influential business leaders that a ‘business as usual’ trajectory is disastrous and that transformative change must happen urgently. We have the solutions needed to correct this course – it is a matter of people at every level being aware and placing nature at the heart of their decisions.

Thank you, Dr. Larigauderie, for sharing your insights with us and good luck with all the IPBES work this year to support conserving nature and biodiversity. Happy World Wildlife Day!

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