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Countries Pledge to Reverse Destruction of Nature After Missing Biodiversity Targets
By Ajit Niranjan
Leaders from across the world have promised to turn environmental degradation around and put nature on the path to recovery within a decade.
"We are in a state of planetary emergency," the 65 leaders, who include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, wrote ahead of a UN biodiversity summit on Wednesday. "We commit ourselves not simply to words, but to meaningful action and mutual accountability."
The commitments, which come two days before a UN biodiversity summit in New York, include eliminating plastic leakage to the oceans by 2050 and incentivizing banks and businesses to value the natural world. The leaders identify unsustainable production and consumption as a key driver of environmental crises that "require urgent and immediate global action."
But strongmen leading some of the world's biggest polluters — U.S., China, India, Russia and Brazil — are not among the signatories.
The pledge follows the September publication of a landmark assessment of biodiversity which showed humanity had failed to fully achieve any of the 20 global biodiversity targets set by the UN ten years ago. Just six of them had been "partly achieved," the report said. For one goal, on protecting coral reefs, the world was found to be moving in the opposite direction.
Data from individual governments shows that a third of national biodiversity targets, which are set by the countries themselves, are on track to be met or exceeded. But these are less ambitious than the UN targets and less than a quarter match up well with the global goals to protect nature.
The vision for biodiversity set out in 2010 is only achievable if the world responds to "compelling evidence" that "transformative change" is required, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity, which prepared the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO) report.
Global Decline in Biodiversity
The charge sheet is long. Pollution from plastics and pesticides have not been brought down to safe levels. Governments still subsidize businesses that damage ecosystems. Coral reefs, which are dying across the world, are struck by the triple-threat of human action: climate change, pollution and overfishing. Some of those drivers are getting worse.
And even where there is progress, it is rarely enough. Deforestation should have been halted by now, but has only been cut by a third, with Asia and Europe gaining forests while Africa and South America lose them at a faster rate.
Conservation efforts have saved species like the Puerto Rican amazon parrot and the Mongolian Przewalski's horse. But they have failed to keep others like the Western Black Rhino or the Christmas Island pipistrelle from being wiped out forever.
While the big trends in biodiversity loss were already known, the UN report included "systematic analysis" on how well the world has achieved the 2010 targets, said Josef Settele, an ecologist at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Germany, who contributed research to the report but was not involved in writing it.
"There is also some brightness," Settele added. "The things we are doing are not completely in vain."
For instance, almost 100 countries have incorporated biodiversity values into national accounting systems. Over the last 20 years, the world has increased the share of protected areas from 10% to 15% on land and from 3% to 7% in water.
There are now more fish in waters managed by good fishing policies. Governments are increasingly eradicating invasive species from islands. And since 1993, conservation actions have prevented the extinction of between 28 and 48 bird and mammal species, according to a study published this month in the journal Conservation Letters — though many remain highly threatened and may still become extinct.
"The progress toward conserving life on earth has been much greater than it would have been [without action]," said Thomas Brooks, chief scientist at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, who was a co-author of the Conservation Letters study but was not involved in the GBO. "The absolutely key question is how to scale up from where things currently are, in terms of responses, to meet targets comprehensively."
Protecting Wildlife, Not Just Individual Species
The way to get that scale, according to the GBO report, is by "mainstreaming" the opportunities and responsibilities from protecting nature. That means every level of society — from individuals and local communities to businesses and national governments — would need to factor biodiversity into their economic decisions.
Like climate change, ecological collapse is happening at breakneck speed. A 2019 report by IPBES, the UN panel of biodiversity experts, found that humans are altering the natural world at an "unprecedented pace" and threatening 1 million animal and plant species with extinction.
Scientists say both issues require systemic changes, but individual actions can help. Agriculture is one of the greatest drivers of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. A study published in the journal Nature this month found that more than two-thirds of future biodiversity losses could be avoided by conserving and restoring land, reducing food waste and switching to more plant-based diets.
They are among many actions laid out in the GBO report to reduce and eventually restore lost biodiversity.
If we do not act faster, said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, "biodiversity will continue to buckle" under the weight of overexploitation, climate change, pollution, invasive alien species and changes to land and sea. "This will further damage human health, economies and societies — with particularly detrimental effects on indigenous peoples and local communities."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
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