A major conference on biodiversity opens in the French city of Marseille on Friday.
Over 1,000 governmental and civil society organisations will discuss how to protect some of the one million species threatened by human actions.
“The answer is very simple. We have natural capital. We have nature. We were taking, and taking, and taking for decades to build up our society. Now we should stop,” Bruno Oberle, director-general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), told Euronews.
“We should take less and we should reinvest in this natural capital more. So taking less and giving more back to nature. This means, for example, bigger conservation area, well managed, well-protected at the right places, 30% of the surface of the planet until 2030.”
The World Conservation Congress typically takes place every four years but was postponed last year due to the pandemic. This edition is jointly organised by the IUCN and the French government and aims to start the development of a new global framework for biodiversity that will strengthen wildlife protection.
“Our common goal is to put nature at the top of international priorities, because our destinies are intrinsically related – planet, climate, nature and human communities,” Macron wrote in a statement ahead of the event.
Protected areas, plastic pollution and poles
On Friday morning, Macron and some other conference participants, including European Council President Charles Michel, took a boat to Calanques National Park, a marine reserve near Marseille known for its azure blue waters topped by high white cliffs.
The reserve is home to dolphins, fin whales, turtles, sea urchins and a variety of fish. Its coastal area also includes 1,600 plant species and 25 protected bird species. Measures to preserve the area were first taken in 1923 and reinforced in 2012.
Macron is to open the conference, which runs until September 11, with a speech.
He is expected to renew his call for 30% of the world’s surface to be categorised as protected areas by 2030. According to a statement by the French presidency, some 60 countries now support this call.
The Mediterranean is also expected to take a prominent place in Macron’s speech. The sea represents only 0.7% of the Earth’s surface but is home to more than 17,000 species or 8% and 18% of global fauna and flora.
Tackling plastic pollution and protecting the poles are also believed to be some of the key issues to be addressed at the conference.
NGOs have however accused the French leader of talking the talk but failing to walk the walk.
Greenpeace France said in a statement on Friday that “to fight against climate change, E. Macron has a plan … of communication!”
“It consists of making vibrant speeches and creating more and more new bodies: One Planet Summit, High Council for the Climate, Ecological Defence Council, Citizens’ Convention for the Climate… everything is good to occupy media space and deceive public opinion,” it added.
Several trade unions at the French Biodiversity Office (OFB) — created in 2019 and responsible for managing protected areas and the environmental police — said in an open letter that they are “cruelly short of staff” and asked that “the will and ambitions (…) be made consistent with the resources allocated to biodiversity.”
A prelude for COP26
The conference comes two years after the UN’s biodiversity experts, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released an alarming report into the state of nature.
It flagged that humans now extract more from the Earth than ever before, while greenhouse gas emissions have doubled since 1980 thanks in part to a sixfold increase in global extraction of biomass, fossil fuels, minerals and metals over the past five decades.
The report also highlighted that urban areas have doubled since 1992 and that half of the agricultural expansion since 1980 has been done at the expense of tropical forests. Furthermore, it said that fishing now covers half of the ocean, that 80% of wastewater worldwide is discharged into the environment without treatment and that plastic pollution has increased tenfold.
“Today, a full 75% of the terrestrial environment, 40% of the marine environment and 50% of streams manifest severe impacts of degradation,” the report states.
Talks at the Marseille conference are also meant to inform the U.N.’s global climate summit, the COP26, scheduled in November in Glasgow, Scotland.