The biodiversity leader who is fighting for nature amid a pandemic
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The biodiversity leader who is fighting for nature amid a pandemic

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Deforestation of hillsides in Guatemala.

Habitat damage is among the main motorists of species loss. Credit: Robin Moore/National Geographic

Earlier this month, Elizabeth Mrema was appointed executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), making her the first female from Africa to lead the intergovernmental body.

The CBD was created by a UN treaty, signed into force by countries in 1992, and assists to set worldwide targets to conserve biodiversity.

Mrema, an attorney from Tanzania, now based in Montreal, Canada, takes on her new function after more than a years in leadership positions at the United Nations Environment Programme– and at a vital time. She will manage the production of a brand-new global biodiversity arrangement for the next years, which is currently being prepared. The accord was anticipated to be signed at a meeting in Kunming, China, in October, but this has actually been postponed till next year due to the fact that of the coronavirus pandemic.

The previous international biodiversity targets, checked in 2010 and called the Aichi targets, are widely consented to have stopped working to stop types loss. Some researchers are now restoring require a single target to stop species termination Others stress that an extinction target would overlook other essential goals of the arrangements, such as ensuring that benefits from biological resources are shared.

The new coronavirus, which originated in animals before it spread to individuals, has likewise brought renewed calls to stop the trading of wildlife, provoking long-simmering stress in between those who want to save species, and those promoting their sustainable use.

Mrema spoke with Nature about how the pandemic has affected negotiations and the difficulties ahead.

How has the pandemic affected the biodiversity program?

One could state that I have actually been appointed at a hard time for biodiversity, considering that the entire world is just emerging from, or still in, lockdown due to the fact that of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the exact same time, I see it as a major opportunity, as biodiversity is being talked about more than ever previously. There is greater awareness of the effect that human activities can have on nature, and of the connection between human health and biodiversity.

Our disturbance, through logging, agricultural expansion, livestock accumulation and environment fragmentation, has exposed wild animals and brought them into closer contact with individuals, which has led to the spillover of pathogens and zoonotic illness, human-to-human transmission through trade and tourist, and the explosive pandemic we presently discover ourselves in.

These are not brand-new problems to the convention. But the pandemic has actually brought these concerns to the fore, and has actually highlighted discussions about how to avoid future pandemics. I still think about 2020 to be a very year for biodiversity, as we invest it preparing, talking, creating awareness and revealing the links. 2021 will be the year for the deal.

Do you concur with calls to prohibit wildlife markets and trade?

Closing damp markets and prohibiting wildlife trading totally would adversely affect neighborhoods who depend upon wild animals. For centuries these neighborhoods have been coping with wild species, saving them, and consuming them sustainably. The problem is us city dwellers, who have actually hindered that harmonious environment by bringing wild animals out of the forests and the bush to the cities, to quench our self-centered dietary choices. The consumers and buyers of wild animals are not the bad people; they are the upscale neighborhoods in the cities.

A total ban would also open the door to prohibited trade in wildlife. Rather, we need more hygienic practices in damp markets that continue to operate, and managed wildlife trade, within the framework of the Convention on International Sell Endangered Species of Wild Animal and Flora. We need to make sure the sustainable usage of types for those neighborhoods who count on this, while likewise curbing prohibited trade. It is a delicate balance.

Headshot for Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Elizabeth Mrema has actually been a leader in the United Nations Environment Program for the previous decade. Credit: SCBD

These stakeholders will assist us by putting favorable pressure on federal governments to concur on an enthusiastic and transformative, post-2020 global biodiversity structure, and can then assist us in executing the arrangement.

The celebrations are still the decision-makers who will finally adopt the structure, however they have understood that they require the engagement of other groups throughout the negotiations and in application.

Likewise, while the focus on carrying out the Aichi targets involved ecological ministries and departments, this time, health, farming, fisheries, forestry, planning and financing ministries are getting included.

This interview has actually been modified for length and clarity.

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