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2020 - a year of promise?

Sir David Attenborough with the last two remaining Northern White rhinoceros (from the BBC series Seven Worlds, One Planet)

Sir David Attenborough with the last two remaining Northern White rhinoceros (from the BBC series Seven Worlds, One Planet)


“But with help even the most vulnerable wildlife populations can recover. In Africa an intensive conservation programme for the mountain gorilla has raised their numbers above 1000 for the first time since records began. And in Antarctica the international ban on whaling has meant that the great whales have returned to the Southern Ocean in numbers not seen for a century.

So we can improve things, if we determine to do so. This is a crucial moment in time. The decisions we take now will influence the future of animals, humanity and indeed all life on Earth.”


So said Sir David Attenborough in concluding the BBC series Seven Worlds, One Planet, which screened in the UK in late 2019.

Two things stand out in the quote above. First, that the time for action is now. The World Meteorological Organisation has said that the decade 2010-2019 will almost certainly be the hottest decade on record, and 2019 will go down as the second or third hottest year ever. And temperatures are only going to continue rising unless we do something. Second, and on a more positive note, there are historical success stories we can draw from. On two occasions we have made a collective decision to do something positive and turned things around for a specific species.

2020 is the chance for us to do the same for ourselves, all wildlife, and the planet itself. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) describes 2020 as “a crunch year for the biodiversity and climate emergencies”. This view was echoed in a post by the chairs of Natural England and the Environment Agency, Tony Juniper and Emma Howard Boyd respectively, when they stated:

“As we start the New Year, it’s clear that 2020 is our last chance to bring the world together to take decisive action on climate change, to protect our communities and reverse the alarming loss of wildlife we have witnessed in recent years.”

The reason this year is so important is that in the coming months major international conferences will take place on issues like conserving the oceans, preserving biodiversity, and responding to climate change.

The key conferences taking place this year include:

  • 15–22 February: The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS COP13) will be held in Gandhinagar, India, with the theme: “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home.”

  • 2–6 June: The UN Ocean Conference will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, focusing the on need to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans, seas and marine resources.

  • 15 September: 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 75) in New York, with the first day of the high-level General Debate on 22 September. A Biodiversity Leaders’ Summit might take place at the same time and place. According to UNEP: “These will provide prime opportunities for world leaders to declare that it is no longer acceptable to continue to degrade our planet and that urgent action to restore nature starts now.”

  • October: The UN Biodiversity Conference will take place in Kunming, Yunnan, China. Discussions will focus the conservation of biological diversity and promoting sustainable development.

  • 9–20 November: The UN Climate Change Conference will take place in Glasgow, Scotland. Nations are due to strengthen their climate pledges and get the world on track to meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. According to UNEP: “On current unconditional pledges, the world is heading for a 3.2°C temperature rise. The G20 nations account almost 80 per cent of all emissions, but 15 G20 members have not committed to a timeline for net-zero emissions.”

These conferences give governments the chance to consider the environment as a totality, and to understand how there are dependencies between issues, for example our best chance of preserving biodiversity is tackling climate change.

But can the platitudes and warm words so often heard at these type of events be matched with concrete action? If the world’s leaders can put their petty differences to one side and listen to what the scientists are telling them there is real reason to hope that 2020 could be the year a real difference is made to the future prospects of our planet. There is certainly ample opportunity for the governments of the nations of the world to make the world a better place for future generations. Whether they will take it is up to the politicians and civil servants who will attend those conferences, as well as all of us to demand that they do so.


Cover photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

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