The Earth Summit in 1992 was an environmental milestone. At the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro, 179 state representatives met and agreed on central sustainability goals; international environmental and climate protection was born. But how does it look today, three decades and 14 conferences later?
Not too well, write renowned researchers in the “Berlin Declaration” published on Thursday. Ongoing global warming and the loss of biodiversity are “the greatest and most pressing challenges of the future”.
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The broad science alliance is now calling on politicians to take decisive action. “Nothing less than our own existence is at stake,” the statement said. “We are fighting against our own future, but it is unfair because the future cannot defend itself,” said aquatic ecologist Klement Tockner when the declaration was presented.
The letter has several first signatories, including the virologist Christian Drosten and the biologist Aletta Bonn. Three Leibniz natural research museums were responsible for the position paper: the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change and the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research.
The researchers warn that a million species could become extinct and global warming could rise to three degrees if politicians do not act immediately. The current decade is crucial, after that it could be too late. If politicians do nothing, 80 percent of the sustainability goals and central aspects of the Paris climate protection agreement would be missed.
But the twin crisis is already having dramatic consequences. These included, for example, forest fires all over the world, the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley and the heat wave in Pakistan. But this is just the beginning. “We cannot imagine what will happen in the next few years if we don’t take countermeasures,” commented Tockner.
But you are not without a chance. “From a scientific point of view, we can say unequivocally and clearly: There are ways to do something,” explained zoology professor Bernd Misof. So-called nature-based solutions are particularly promising.
These are measures to protect, manage and restore ecosystems. In concrete terms, this means, for example, the renaturation of rivers, the conversion of forests, the waterlogging of moors or green roofs in cities.
The positive effects of nature-based solutions are enormous: According to a recent study, 300 gigatonnes of CO2 could be bound by renaturing 15 percent of the most species- and carbon-rich areas. This corresponds to almost a third of the emissions that humanity has emitted since industrialization. It could also reduce species extinction by 60 percent.
Without nature-based measures, on the other hand, it is “impossible to keep global warming below two degrees”. The researchers demand that Germany, as part of its G7 presidency, also work to bring about a change in thinking internationally and to promote nature-based solutions. “No country is better positioned for this, no task is more urgent,” says the statement.
The fight against species extinction is also worthwhile financially; every year there is a global loss of around four trillion dollars. “And despite the immense threat, there is still a lack of awareness of the problem, the courage to act and effective implementation by politics, business and society.”
A spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Ministry told the Tagesspiegel that the demand for nature-based solutions was supported. These could “make a significant contribution to combating the climate crisis, adapting to climate change and preserving biodiversity”. The Ministry of the Environment is therefore currently developing the “Natural Climate Protection” action program, which is also anchored in the traffic light coalition agreement.
However, there is no overall estimate of how much CO2 could be saved in Germany through nature-based solutions. However, nature-based solutions and natural climate protection played an “important role” at the G7 meeting of energy, climate and environment ministers next week. For international cooperation, “a common understanding and common standards for nature-based solutions” are important.
And how can Germany become a pioneer? “We are already pioneers. We have relied on nature-based solutions for many years and will continue to do so in the new coalition. The transformation also needs a successful industrial nation as a role model,” said Carsten Träger (SPD), member of the Bundestag, to the Tagesspiegel.
The environmental spokesman explained that the international community must fight climate change and biodiversity together. “The expansion of renewable energies and species protection must not be played off against each other,” warned Träger.
Thomas Gebhart, chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Committee on Climate Protection and Energy, said that “ambitious climate protection, a strong economy and social aspects must be reconciled”. He welcomes nature-based solutions, but technological and behavior-based approaches are also needed.
It is also important that the traffic light coalition not only set goals, but also achieve them. “A high level of ambition today is only worth as much tomorrow as it has actually contributed to the change in the matter,” Gebhart told the Tagesspiegel.
The federal government can now also get involved at the 15th World Nature Summit in October, the follow-up meeting to the historic Rio Conference. Whether the summit will actually take place is still uncertain, as it has already been postponed several times. In the press conference of the Berlin Declaration it was said that one could not afford to postpone it again, because the summit was a “historic opportunity for an urgently needed trend reversal”.