“People are abusing nature and we will pay the price,” the WWF chief condemned

The population of wild species on earth has decreased by more than two thirds in about fifty years, according to the report from the NGO WWF (World Wildlife Fund). In an interview with France 24, Marco Lambertini, the organisation’s director general, comments on this alarming result, its consequences for humanity and the measures to be taken to try to reverse the trend.

According to Living Planet Report 2020, published on September 10, which measures the state of global biodiversity, human activity has severely degraded three quarters of the country and 40% of the oceans.

The annual report by WWF and the Zoological Society of London points to rampant deforestation and the expansion of agriculture as the two main factors that led to a 68% decline in wildlife population between 1970 and 2016. the presence is constantly expanding in wild areas. France 24 spoke with Marco Lambertini, CEO of NGO WWF International, about the growing destruction of biodiversity and the solutions to be provided to reverse the trend.

France 24: Many reports have warned of the species’ disappearance, were you surprised by the magnitude of the phenomenon revealed today?

Marco Lambertini: I was shocked but not surprised. The decline is so great that it is hard to believe that it took place in such a short period, when these species have been around for millions of years. Perhaps the surprise comes from the fact that the trend, despite the many warnings, is still negative and even accelerating. It is shocking and sad, because it reflects a moral failure in relation to the forms of life around us. But a new message emerges, which in my opinion is a step of hope: We are beginning to pay attention to these figures and concerns are growing. A significant cultural change is taking place; little by little, grief gives grief for worry. The same phenomenon happened a few years ago with the climate. It is therefore to be hoped that this growing concern will lead to action being taken.

Does the desire to preserve nature today depend on a moral duty or on a struggle for human survival?

I believe that today more and more people understand that these two aspects are essential. Many people are still afraid, and rightly so, of human ecocidal action. As a dominant species, humans abuse nature in an unacceptable way. At the same time, we are beginning to realize that we will pay the price. The planet will survive in one way or another, biodiversity will reappear. But the survival of our societies is still an issue that generates enormous anxiety towards our children. Especially since the horizon we are talking about here does not extend over hundreds of years but dozens.

How did we get to this step? Is it man who did not want to admit that his survival was due to nature?

There is a contradiction between the anthropocentric and the biocentric view of the world. The first puts man at the center of everything, while the second assigns him a protective role and involves a control of human activity. But there is a deeper cause, almost genetic I would say. Like other species, humans have evolved by encountering a hostile environment for most of their history. We have developed a method for hunter-gatherers to survive daily, like most species. Today, there are almost 8 billion of us on earth and have developed technical tools with enormous destructive potential. We must therefore change our relationship with the planet; Stop using resources without thinking about the consequences of learning to manage them wisely.

Of course, inequalities make a big difference when it comes to environmental footprints. Some consume far beyond the planet’s resources, while others barely manage to feed themselves. But the destruction of nature first affects the poorest. Richer societies are more resilient to ecological consequences, while those who are directly dependent on nature, such as self-sufficient farmers, will get into trouble much faster.

Has the coronavirus pandemic increased awareness of the environmental threat in a clearer way?

In this tragic situation, we may need to see a lesson for people: Deforestation and animal consumption involve risks that are simply not worth it. The statistics speak for themselves; 60% of new diseases that pose a pandemic risk come from human interaction with nature. It is a sure bet that the next pandemic will again be the result of one of these zoonotic diseases [transmise de l’animal à l’homme]. So, yes, awareness grew.

In our study in Asia in December 2019, shortly after the arrival of Covid-19, between 70% and 90% of respondents said they were in favor of closing down wildlife markets. For our part, we do everything to make people aware of this threat. In our globalized world, these markets pose too great a danger.

How can we turn this consciousness into concrete action?

We must ensure that the billions of dollars invested in reviving the pandemic economy promote a green turnaround for agriculture, forestry and all sectors that contribute to the destruction of nature. We also need stricter rules for the trade and consumption of wildlife. I am talking here about trade and not about the consumption of indigenous communities. Next year, we will have to set international goals for the protection of nature, just as we did for the climate in Paris. [à la Conférence de Paris de 2015 sur les changements climatiques]. The French government is very involved and it is necessary for other states to show ambition under this UN convention. The goal must be to stop and reverse the decline in biodiversity, that is, natural spaces and wild species, by 2030.

How can we reverse the decline in biodiversity?

We know exactly how! Especially since the development of science today allows us to fully understand questions and solutions. With political, social and economic awareness, it is time to set strong goals in three key areas.

The first is better protection of natural habitats. We now protect 15% of the country and 8% of the oceans when these figures are to reach at least 30%. Then we have to regulate trade in terrestrial animals and overfishing. Finally, and this step is the most difficult, it is necessary to change the ecocidal economic engines towards more ecological models. Agriculture must abandon deforestation and reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers. The fisheries sector must allow fishery resources to be renewed and put an end to the destruction of marine ecosystems.

Mining, felling and construction remain. These areas can apply much greener measures. It is sufficient to use appropriate technical tools and apply binding rules with financial incentives in order for them to be respected. Twenty years ago, everyone thought it would be impossible to replace fossil fuels with clean energy. Today we are there; clean energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels. This may therefore apply to other sectors.

Original article by Benjamin Dodman published on the English-speaking website France 24 and translated from English by David Rich