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Delegates meet with a mandate to set global biodiversity goals for the next ten years

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The natural world is in a steep and worrying decline. More than a million species are at risk of of extinction, many within decades, because of human actions. This week, delegates from around the world are gathering in Canada to try to come up with a plan to slow that decline.

To talk about this Convention on Biological Diversity, we are joined by NPR's Nathan Rott. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Set the stage for me a little bit more here. What exactly is happening this week in Canada?

ROTT: OK. So you remember that climate conference just a few weeks ago in Egypt, COP27? This is basically the biodiversity - the nature equivalent to that. Delegates from more than 190 countries are all going to try to get together to try to approve a global plan to save the natural world.

KELLY: A global plan to save the natural world - just a small mission there.

ROTT: Yeah, small potatoes. You know, it's easy to think about biodiversity when we're talking about it as just being cute, furry critters, right? - the polar bear at risk from declining sea ice. But when we're talking about biodiversity, really, we're talking about so much more here. The science is extremely clear on this. Healthy, intact nature is essential to pretty much every part of the human experience. You know, trees and plankton make the oxygen we breathe. Wetlands clean the water we drink. Peatlands store climate-warming carbon. Biodiversity feeds us. It pays the bills. Here's Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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ELIZABETH MARUMA MREMA: Fifty percent of the global GDP - our economy - depends on biodiversity. And yet we human beings - we have distorted that biodiversity in nature by 97% globally.

ROTT: So she says the main goal of this convention is to basically balance the scales, to come out of this with a roadmap for fixing that relationship with nature.

KELLY: What kind of a roadmap? What might it look like?

ROTT: So there's a draft that we've been able to see. It has 22 specific goals. Probably the flashiest goal in that is a pledge to conserve 30% of the Earth's land and water by the year 2030. It's also known as 30 by 30. The Biden administration is taking steps already to do this here in the U.S., but what that looks like globally is still a really big question. There are concerns in some parts of the world that this could enable countries to displace Indigenous people by declaring a place conserved, which, remember, Mary Louise, is basically what happened with national parks here in the U.S.

Scientists say humans have significantly altered 75% of the Earth's land and two-thirds of the oceans. And a study published last year, which was far bleaker, suggested only 3%, just 3% of the world's natural places are still ecologically intact. So obviously, there's a huge need to protect areas. But remember, this is a convention of more than 190 countries who will all have to agree on a path forward. And as we saw at the climate conference last month, there's going to be disagreements about what that actually looks like.

KELLY: Well, and having just interviewed you when you were at that climate conference in Egypt, it was very clear. It's one thing to set goals. It's another to keep them, to do them. Is that...

ROTT: Yeah.

KELLY: ...The concern here as well?

ROTT: It most definitely is. You know, we've had 27 climate conferences. And climate warming emissions are still on the rise. The same is very true here. The last big framework on biodiversity, like the one they're doing now, set 20 goals to achieve for the year 2020. They did not achieve any of them. And given the rate of extinction we're seeing, the climate disasters like flooding, fires and droughts, you know, there's a real sense that this framework needs to not only be ambitious, it needs to be achieved.

KELLY: That is Nathan Rott from NPR's climate desk. Thank you.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.