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'We have a lot of work to do' says climatologist as leaders pledge to protect planet's biodiversity

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By Katy Dartford with AP
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a video conference at the One Planet Summit, part of World Nature Day, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a video conference at the One Planet Summit, part of World Nature Day, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris   -   Copyright  LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP
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At least 50 countries have committed to protecting 30 per cent of the planet, including land and sea, over the next decade to halt species extinction and address climate change issues.

The announcement was made by French President Emmanuel Macron at the One Planet Summit for world leaders in Paris aimed at protecting the world's biodiversity.

Speaking via video conference, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said 2021 must be the year to "reconcile humanity with nature."

"Until now we have been destroying our planet, we have been abusing it as if we have a spare one. Our current resource use requires almost two planets, but we only have one."

Other leaders at the summit were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

China, represented by Vice Premier Han Zheng, agreed that "collective efforts'' are needed.

The event, organised by France, the United Nations, and the World Bank, took place without top US officials.

Yet during his campaign, President-elect Joe Biden pledged to better protect biodiversity by preserving 30 per cent of American lands and waters by 2030.

Speaking to Euronews, Dr Niklas Höhne, the founder of the NewClimate Institute in Cologne said: "Currently, only 17 per cent of the surface of the planet is protected and if we can, as a globe, protect 30 per cent that's a huge step forward."

"We have a lot of work to do. We have a dramatic loss of biodiversity, we have climate change that's running away and we have desertification that we need to stop," said Höhne who is also a Special Professor of the “mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions” at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

The talks sought to prepare the ground for negotiations on biodiversity targets for the next decade at a UN conference in China in October after it was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

The UN's global climate summit, the COP26, has also been rescheduled for November in the UK.

"I think these summits are important as they give leaders the opportunity to announce their ambitions and to move others along." However, Höhne warns that it cannot be "just talking."

"We need to check whether a few years later countries are doing what they proposed."

The one-day summit focussed on four major topics: protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems; promoting agroecology, a more sustainable way to grow food; increasing funding to protect biodiversity; and identifying links between deforestation and the health of humans and animals.

Höhne says there are huge challenges ahead to reach the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

"It's really ambitious; no coal no oil no gas to be used by 2050 globally. That means in the next ten years we basically need to half global emissions. These are huge challenges."

"Currently global greenhouse gas emissions are stable and they should be halved in the next ten years. We still have a lot to do but the first step is to have good intentions, the second step is to implement them."

And Höhne believes it's necessary to be happy with small steps: "What's improved in the last few months is intentions. So on climate change, more and more countries want to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. We have 127 countries that want to do this and they cover together two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, so that's critical mass."

"They have good intentions, however, none of these countries have short term policies in place to be on track to meet those goals."

The One Planet Summit also launched a program called PREZODE which Macron presented as an unprecedented international initiative to prevent the emergence of zoonotic diseases and pandemics, which is already mobilizing over 400 researchers and experts across the world.

A side conference on Monday focused on investment for Africa's Great Green Wall project, which involves gigantic efforts to stop the Sahara Desert from spreading further south.

Another initiative involves a new coalition of Mediterranean countries working to better protect the sea from pollution and overfishing.

Britain's Prince Charles launched an "urgent appeal'' to private sector leaders to join a new investment alliance targeting €8.2 billion by 2022 to finance nature-based solutions.