MARSEILLE – French President Emmanuel Macron opened a global summit on biodiversity on Friday, saying the world needs to act promptly and decisively to safeguard the Earth's natural resources.
“There is no vaccine for a sick planet," he warned.
In remarks at the World Conservation Congress in the southern city of Marseille, on France’s Mediterranean coast, Macron also promised an EU-wide initiative to curb pesticide overuse, which damages ecosystems. He called for better protection of the high seas, which largely don’t fall under any national jurisdiction but are threatened by overfishing and other human activities.
Macron urged world leaders and institutions to safeguard biodiversity as they work to curb climate change and support human welfare. “We must reinvent our trade policies so that they are coherent with our climate and biodiversity policies,” he said.
The conference, held every four years, focuses on urgent action needed to protect wildlife. Thousands of people are set to attend the event, both in person and virtually, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several recent studies have shown that many of the planet's ecosystems are severely strained by global warming, deforestation, habitat degradation, pollution and other threats.
Oceanic shark populations have dropped by 71% since 1970. More than half of all bird of prey species worldwide are declining in population — and 18 species are critically endangered. Warming temperatures and melting ice are projected to imperil 70% of Emperor penguin colonies by 2050, and 98% by 2100.
Speaking to reporters, Macron announced the creation of a new global event meant to protect the high seas — which cover about half the planet's surface. The “One Ocean Summit” will be organized in France in coming months in coordination with the United Nations, he said.
“When we talk about oceans, 60% of these areas do not fall under a (national) jurisdiction,” Macron stressed.
The summit will aim at creating an international ocean law, he said. “Because otherwise, some nations do whatever they want in the high seas and may destroy biodiversity and at the same time may also make choices which, from a geopolitical point of view, are bad.”
On Friday morning, Macron and other conference participants, including European Council President Charles Michel, took a boat to Calanques National Park, a marine reserve near Marseille known for its blue waters topped by high white cliffs.
Macron said he wants to extend the French parts of the Mediterranean Sea under “very high protection," which implies a ban on fishing. They now represent a very small area.
“We see that when we protect well, we succeed in regenerating species, regenerating biodiversity,” Macron said after his boat trip to the Calanques reserve, which is home to dolphins, fin whales, turtles and a variety of fish. Its coastal area also includes 1,600 plant species and 25 protected bird species.
“Nature does a lot for us. But if we destroy nature, we will destroy the many ways it enhances human life,” said Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University.
The conference is hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, made up of 1,400 private and government entities.
Macron wants to follow the path started at the One Planet Summit in January, which led 70 countries to commit to protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans over the next decade to halt species extinction and combat climate change.
The conference runs until Sept. 11. Topics include links between climate change and biodiversity loss, and the ethics of genetic enhancement to increase species' chances of survival.
“With changing temperatures, we are seeing kelp move, sea otters move, seals move,” said Stuart Sandin, a marine biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
U.S. weather officials recently reported that July 2021 was the hottest month in 142 years of record-keeping. A U.N. report released in June examined ways in which climate change was exacerbating the loss of biodiversity.
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.
Corbet reported from Saulieu, France. Larson reported from Washington, D.C.