The Rights of Nature: Some thoughts on the Biodiversity Crisis 

April 14, 2022 

As the latest IPCC report takes the headlines, the equally urgent biodiversity crisis is once again pushed down the agenda below the Ukraine War, the cost of living crisis, and global heating due to uncontrolled carbon emissions. UN Biodiversity Conference – now, finally due to take place in Kunming China in a few weeks’ time – constantly struggles for attention, though this is perhaps unsurprising. As with other COP meetings the general thrust of these international conferences seems to be to ‘hammer out’ unrealistic ‘pledges’ about the future decades. One such pledge is the 30-30 scheme of ‘protecting’ 30% of land and sea by 2030. And what is to happen in the other 70%? As Greta Thunberg so memorably said at COP26 – ‘blah-blah-blah.’  

To my mind the first thing that needs attention is how to curtail and, as soon as possible, terminate some of the main activities which have led to the present biodiversity crisis – on both land and sea. I am referring to continuing deforestation and wild ‘development’ schemes in untouched wildernesses such as the western Amazon basin, Papua New Guinea, and the more intact parts of central Africa. Not forgetting the unremitting pollution of every watercourse by chemicals and discarded plastic, so that it ends up dumped in the ocean. These things need to change, rapidly. Somehow funds have to be made available to compensate the Governments concerned; it seems a great pity that ‘debt for nature’ swaps seem to have gone out of fashion. If the UN was serious about the biodiversity crisis there would be moves to produce a UN Declaration on the Rights of Nature to match that on Human Rights, so that not just individual vulnerable species, or particular selected sites, but the whole range of ecosystems could be included. Polluters of air and water need to be held to account; an economic system which fails to do this is clearly unsustainable. Unfortunately, as with global heating, powerful interests continue to oppose major changes. I fear that it will take major shocks to the system to concentrate political minds, and if that is our future then we should all be ready for a pretty bumpy ride.   

Edward Milner, Associate Professor, Sustainability Research Institute, University of East London  

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