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World Leaders Address Collapse Of The Natural World At The U.N. Biodiversity Summit

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

The U.S. is still talking about last night's presidential debate. Nearly every other country is gathering digitally today to try to address a bigger challenge - the collapse of the natural world. NPR's Nathan Rott reports that scores of countries are making new pledges to conserve nature. But the United States is not participating.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: In 2010, world leaders gathered in Japan to try and slow humanity's rapid destruction of nature. They set 20 targets for the coming decade to slow extinction, protect wild spaces and limit pollution and development. Nearly every country in the world signed pledges. Ten years later...

ELIZABETH MARUMA MREMA: None of them has yet been met.

ROTT: Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is the assistant secretary general for the United Nations, and she's leading today's convention on biodiversity, where world leaders are setting new goals in the midst of a pandemic that Mrema says should serve as a warning to us all.

MREMA: Do we want to avoid another COVID? Then we have to take action. COVID really was not the first. We have had the MERS. We have had the Ebola. We have had the HIV. All these were clear signs. We either conserve and protect that nature, biodiversity, or it will make us suffer as we do now.

ROTT: Deforestation and biodiversity loss increase the risk of pathogens jumping from animals to humans. It also puts humans at risk by eroding natural processes that we all rely on. Anne Larigauderie is the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

ANNE LARIGAUDERIE: The capacity of forests to draw carbon and control climate or the capacity of rivers to provide clean water - all of those have been strongly declining because of this biodiversity loss.

ROTT: And that loss, she says, is unsustainable. Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, says there seems to finally be a growing recognition of that fact worldwide.

REBECCA SHAW: We're seeing an intensity of interest around doing things differently.

ROTT: The hope is that in 10 more years, some of the promises being crafted and made now will actually, this time, be carried out.

Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.