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More than 150 countries made a plan to preserve biodiversity a decade ago. A new report says they mostly failed.

Report: Animal population dropped 70% in 50 years
World animal population has declined 70% in 50 years, report says 01:22

Ten years ago, more than 150 countries set a list of goals to achieve by 2020 that aimed to improve the world's biodiversity. On Tuesday, the United Nations announced that out of the 20 targets, known as the "Aichi Targets," the countries fully met none of them. 

The targets were meant to do five things: Promote mainstream biodiversity across government and society, reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use, improve the status of biodiversity, enhance the benefits of biodiversity, and enhance the implementation of these practices. 

Only six of the 20 targets were even partially achieved — two of which were partial accomplishments that were supposed to have been completed in 2015. 

According to the report, participating countries managed to:

  • Identify and prioritize invasive species, although there is no evidence of a decline in new invasive species 
  • Protect some land and ocean areas, but not necessarily the most important areas for biodiversity 
  • Make the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources — an international agreement to share the benefits of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way — operational
  • Submit an action plan to support biodiversity targets
  • Share and assess data regarding biodiversity 
  • Increase financial resources in some countries to support biodiversity, although the total resources are not sufficient in relation to needs and there is still overarching support for activities that harm biodiversity 

U.N. officials said the accomplishments that were made are not enough. The main theme of the report is that "humanity is at a crossroads."

Inger Andersen, U.N. under-secretary-general and executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, said the report — as well as COVID-19, wildfires, floods and unprecedented heat — shows that "failure to meet the Aichi Targets has very real consequences."

"We can no longer afford to cast nature to the side. Now is the time for a massive step up, conserving, restoring and using biodiversity fairly and sustainably," Andersen said. "If we do not, biodiversity will continue to buckle under the weight of land- and sea-use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species. This will further damage human health, economies and societies, with particularly dire impacts on indigenous communities."

Just one week ago, the World Wildlife Fund issued its own report, in which it found that nearly 4,400 species of animals around the world have declined by an average of 68% over the last 50 years. 

Addressing this issue, as well as accomplishing biodiversity goals, is "critical" to both the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris climate agreement, which brings together nearly 200 countries that have a shared goal of reducing pollution of heat-trapping gasses, the report said. 

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris agreement in November 2019. But because it takes a year to become official, the November election will determine the country's future involvement. Another president could return the U.S. to the deal in just 30 days, Andrew Light, a former Obama State Department climate negotiator, told The Associated Press in November.

"The international focus on sustainable development is a pressing agenda for our century," the report says. "...Many of the measures that are required to tackle poverty, reduce hunger, tackle climate change and reduce the risk of future pandemics are also those that are needed to support biodiversity." 

Andersen and others have said there is still an opportunity to improve the state of the Earth, but it will require a "significant shift away from 'business as usual.'"

The report outlines eight transitions that can be done to slow, halt and possibly reverse the current trends in biodiversity decline —  but it warns that none of the steps are sufficient on their own. 

These transitions include conserving and restoring land forests; improving water quality while protecting freshwater environments; protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems; redesigning agriculture to be more sustainable and agroecological; enabling sustainable and healthy diets; creating green infrastructure, particularly in urban cities; and reducing the scale and impact of climate change by creating nature-based solutions to common issues, such as energy consumption. 

"This may seem like a tall order, but I believe protecting nature is entirely within humanity's reach," Andersen said. "...As the UN Secretary-General has noted, this is a 'make or break moment for the planet.' As we seek to reboot the global economy following COVID-19, how we prioritize and direct our resources will either secure human, economic and environmental health for generations to come, or take us down the grey path that has brought with it the suffering we are seeing today."

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