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How to fix nature and avoid human misery: UN report

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Revamping global food production, retooling the financial sector, moving beyond GDP as a measure of progress and other “transformative changes” are needed to save Nature and ourselves, a major UN biodiversity report is set to conclude.

Delegates from 130 nations wrap up week-long negotiations in Paris Saturday on the executive summary of a 1,800-page tome authored by 400 scientists, the first UN global assessment of the state of Nature — and its impact on humanity — in 15 years.

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The bombshell Summary for Policymakers, to be unveiled on May 6, makes for very grim reading.

Up to a million of Earth’s estimated eight million species face extinction, many of them within decades, according to a draft version obtained by AFP.

All but seven percent of major marine fish stocks are in decline or exploited to the limit of sustainability. At the same time, humanity dumps up to 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other waste into oceans and rivers each year.

Since 1990, Earth has lost 2.9 million hectares — an area more than eight times the size of Germany or Vietnam — of forests that play a critical role in absorbing record-level CO2 emissions.

The heavily negotiated text does not make explicit policy recommendations, but will serve “as a basis for redefining our objectives” ahead of a key meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in China next Fall, said Yunne Jai Shin, a researcher at the Research Institute for Development in Marseilles.

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But the pressure to set clear targets — similar to the cap on global warming in the 2015 climate treaty inked in the French capital — has sparked calls for a “Paris moment” on biodiversity.

– ‘Harmful subsidies’ –

The new report details how humans are undermining Earth’s capacity to produce fresh water, clean air and productive soil, to name a few “ecosystem services”.

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The direct causes of Nature’s degradation — in order of importance — are shrinking habitat and land-use change, hunting for food or illicit trade in body parts, climate change, pollution, and predatory or disease-carrying alien species such as rats, mosquitoes and snakes.

“There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change — the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume,” Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), told AFP ahead of the meeting.

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            AFP / JOE KLAMAR The way humans produce, distribute and consume food is especially destructive for the environment, a UN report is expected to say

The way humanity produces, distributes and consumes food — accounting for a third of land, 75 percent of fresh water use and a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions — is especially destructive, the report shows.

Fertiliser use, which degrades the soil’s ability to grow plants and absorb CO2, has risen four-fold in just 13 years in Asia, and doubled worldwide since 1990.

“Feeding the world in a sustainable manner entails the transformation of food systems,” the report notes.

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Local food production, less demand for meat, fewer chemical inputs, use of renewable power, sustainable limits for fisheries, a sharp decline in tropical deforestation — all are feasible and would help restore Nature.

The report also spotlights “harmful subsidies” that encourage environmentally damaging fishing, agriculture, livestock raising, forestry and mining.

– A downward spiral –

The report cites estimates that tax havens finance about 70 percent of vessels implicated in unregulated fishing, and an equal share of the soy and beef sectors that are ravaging the Amazon.

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The summary for policymakers maps out what Watson calls “several plausible futures,” some inviting, others less so.

One labelled “economic optimism” sees burgeoning international trade unfettered by regulation. Population growth slows, but per capita consumption is high, leading to more climate change and pollution.

           AFP / Manan VATSYAYANA “Business as usual” or “regional competition” scenarios for human development spell trouble, the UN report is to say

A “reformed markets” variant would feature more policies aimed at poverty alleviation and protecting the environment, but consumer demand remains high, if more equally distributed.

“Global sustainable development” would see politicians and the public prioritise environmental issues and strict regulations. Policies and education promote low population growth, sustainable production and a concept of progress based on well-being, not just gross domestic product (GDP). People eat a lot less meat, and energy consumption declines.

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“All variations of this archetype are beneficial for biodiversity,” the underlying report says.

In a kindred world, international institutions weaken, but regional ones pick up the slack toward the same ends.

Finally, the last two scenarios — “business-as-usual” and “regional competition” — plunge the planet into a nightmarish, downward spiral of conflict, growing inequality and continuing degradation of Nature.


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‘He got caught!’: Adam Schiff gives impassioned condemnation of Trump to close out the day’s impeachment hearing

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When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was gaming out the plan for impeachment hearings, she took a somewhat surprising step by placing the Intelligence Community front and center in the proceedings as it pursues the Ukraine investigation. And on Tuesday, after a long day of testimony from four critical witnesses, Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) delivered an impassioned speech that exemplified why Pelosi entrusted the trying task of leading the effort to him.

Schiff thanked Ambassador Kurt Volker and White House aide Tim Morrison for their testimony, noting that Volker had debunked Republicans' attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Republicans are getting scared about Gordon Sondland’s Wednesday impeachment testimony: report

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Ambassador Gordon Sondland may be the most dangerous witness for President Donald Trump in the impeachment hearings so far, and that's in part because he has a lot to lose.

And according to CNN's Shimon Prokuecz, his scheduled testimony for Wednesday morning is making Republicans nervous:

Multiple GOP sources say they are most worried about what Gordon Sondland will do tomorrow - and whether he will turn on the President. The fear, Republicans say, is that he could undercut the last GOP defense. @mkraju

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Trump’s brief out-of-character anti-vaping stance was a mystery — but he flip-flopped back to form

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The momentary question upon hearing that Donald Trump’s plan to ban flavored vapes had gone up, well, in smoke was only under which category of Trump strangeness to file this new failed act of governance.

Was it another example of Trump's hypocrisy of advocating one thing, only to do another? Was it another opportunity to suppress a move for public health in favor of perceived personal political advancement? Was it an actual defense of new jobs in the vaping industry over the effects that these jobs have on the vastly growing numbers of new young smokers? Was it another case of Trump surprising his own people by making the announcement on Twitter rather than actually talking to his own administrative staff?

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