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UN says "urgent action" needed to protect Earth's biodiversity

Giant Chinese paddlefish declared extinct
Giant Chinese paddlefish declared extinct after surviving 150 million years 00:55

One third of all lands and oceans worldwide should become protected areas before the end of the decade in order to reverse the rapid loss of species around the globe, according to a United Nations agency proposal released Monday. By stabilizing the planet's vulnerable biodiversity by 2030, the proposal aims to "ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled."

The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity is setting goals to ensure the viability of ecosystems essential to human well-being and to combat the ongoing biodiversity crisis that some scientists worry is the start of Earth's sixth mass extinction. They warn that in order to achieve its goals, there has to be "urgent action" from world and local leaders — and from those on an individual level.

"Goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors," the U.N. said.

The draft plan proposes safeguarding 30% of all land and sea, with at least 10% put under "strict protection," by 2030. It also includes cutting plastic and excess nutrients pollution by half, making sure that the trade of all wild species is legal and sustainable, bringing greater sustainability to economic sectors and individual consumption and achieve at least 30% of the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Fish swim among garbage, including plastic waste. LUIS ACOSTA / GETTY

"Biodiversity, and the benefits it provides, is fundamental to human well-being and a healthy planet. Despite ongoing efforts, biodiversity is deteriorating worldwide and this decline is projected to continue or worsen under business-as-usual scenarios," the proposal reads.

The proposal cites a growing human population — currently 7.6 billion — as a drain on resources, including food, infrastructure and land use. The U.N. estimates by 2030, there will be 8.6 billion humans worldwide, and 9.8 billion by 2050. About 68% of the population will live in urban areas.

The framework will be taken up at a summit in China scheduled to start February 24. In 2010, similar goals were set during a summit — but they were largely unaccomplished, causing severe consequences for every living species' survival. The plan is expected to be finalized and adopted in October.

The proposal comes less than a year after a U.N. report found that around 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival.

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