Bruno Oberle (66, St. Gallen, Switzerland) leads the world’s largest environmental organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which includes more than 100 countries and 1,200 “big and small” NGOs. aim. He comes to the interview after an intense day in Madrid in which he has renewed an agreement with the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and has received the Environmental Personality award from Ecovidrio. Oberle, an expert in green economy, warns that “we do not place the correct value on nature”: it is exploited, much of what is destroyed is forever and the cost of recovering what can be saved is “extremely expensive”.
Question. What is IUCN and what role does it play in conserving and protecting the planet?
Answer. It is the first environmental union in the world, it was created after the Second World War and has among its members a hundred States, Spain among them, 1,200 non-governmental organizations and more than 18,000 experts who evaluate the situation of the world’s natural resources . Its objective is to support society in the use of resources and biodiversity in a sustainable way. All this, participating in political debates such as the Glasgow COP or the next Kunming summit [China], and executing projects on the ground. Perhaps our greatest contribution in the long term was the term sustainable development, which was born in IUCN and offered to society for discussion.
P. Its Red List of threatened species is a world reference.
R. It is probably our best known product, in which we have so far evaluated the conservation status of 138,300 animals, fungi and plants. It is a very important tool to know what conservation actions should be taken. In addition, we have 500 million in projects on the ground around the world to conserve and restore ecosystems.
There are many citizens who when asked are not willing to change their lifestyle for the weather.
P. Do you think COP26 has met its objectives?
R. The main objective is to have a global debate between the parties, from time to time there are specific results to be achieved, but the most important thing is that the discussion continues. Glasgow is a transitional summit. The next big meeting will be in 2023 and we will see how many achievements have been made. In Glasgow, technical issues have been discussed about the use of market mechanisms, of regulations to control jobs, it is normal. These summits are increasingly becoming a place where other participants, not politicians, create associations and announce their own initiatives, for example, the private sector.
P. Citizens are asking for solutions now …
R. It is true that we do not have time and it is good to ask for firm decisions, but there are many citizens who when asked are not willing to change their lifestyle because of the weather. But I am happy, because the urgency is gaining followers mainly among young people, who are mobilizing because they realize that the world we are creating now is the one in which they are going to live, where they are going to have their children.
P. Is the loss of biodiversity connected with the appearance of covid-19?
R. It is a very complicated scientific discussion. In a direct sense, the loss of biodiversity is not the cause of the appearance of covid, because the virus is one like so many others, which has crossed the barrier from one species to another. But it is true that if we are getting closer to other species, because we destroy ecosystems and we live more and more in contact with wild animals, the chances of these viruses reaching us increase.
P. Is the world aware of what is disappearing in nature?
R. The climate crisis is very visible, we see floods, fires, heat waves … And we notice how it impacts us. But the loss of biodiversity is still invisible to the citizen and is in everything we eat, drink and breathe. Approximately 50% of the global Gross Domestic Product is related to it. The fact is that species are disappearing at a rate between 100 and 1,000 times faster than naturally and that we are weakening the ecosystem. If nature stops giving us these services we will be in big, big trouble. We have to stop that loss.
P. We are on time?
R. We are in time at any time to improve our behavior, but the sooner the better.
P. What can we do?
R. It is an easy formula. We do not give the correct value to nature and we are taking a lot and we are destroying it. The first thing to do is take less. In this sense, protected areas can be increased. The second is to reinvest in natural capital to recover what has been destroyed. For example, restoring forests or coastal areas, wetlands … It is also necessary to invest in the reconversion of agriculture, because fertile soils are needed. Protect and reinvest. We need investment, money. All this creates work, growth, it is a long-term value.
P. What does it mean to use a resource in a sustainable way?
R. Sustainable is a very old word that means to use only what you can recover. The planet offers you ecosystem services for free, we can use them, but without destroying them.
We feel the big animals closer, but if all insects died tomorrow, life on earth would probably disappear.
P. Is the citizen aware of this?
R. Everyone knows that plants produce oxygen and that everything we need, food, drink, water … has its origin in nature, but it is something we forget, especially in cities, because all these services are physically far away. . The consequences of our behavior are probably not that well known. Most of what we destroy we lose forever, and while it can be recovered, it is extremely expensive to rebuild.
P. People are worried about the disappearance of animals such as bears, lynxes, whales, but are we worried about the disappearance of an insect?
R. We feel closer to large animals, many are mammals like us, but perhaps a fish or an insect matters less to us. But if all insects died tomorrow, life on earth would probably disappear.
P. Should the intensive agriculture and livestock model be changed to a less aggressive one?
R. It will be impossible to stop the loss of biodiversity if we do not change the way we produce food. Science has shown that more than 80% of this damage is from agriculture. Directly, because forests or wetlands have been destroyed, and indirectly because of the way it is produced and the use of substances such as pesticides. Today it is possible for agriculture to produce enough for everyone in good quality, protecting the fertility of the soil and, at the same time, conserving and even creating biodiversity. But for that to happen, in addition to the farmer changing his practices, the consumer has to agree to receive new types of products and the industry prepared to invest in it. First there should be a change in policy regulations to support more sustainable agriculture.
P. In Spain there is a boom in the construction of renewable energy plants, but there are scientists who warn that the large area they occupy affects biodiversity.
R. There is no doubt that we have to stop using fossil energy. The other big debate is whether we need electricity from nuclear power or not. If we decide not to, then it will come from the sun and the wind. Wind power is the cheapest, and the cost of solar power is going down very fast, so there is a natural tendency to invest in that direction and you need acreage, but I don’t think it’s that big. We should start by installing the plates on the roofs of houses or in industrial plants. They can also be located in areas with little biodiversity, for example, in deserts. African countries with large areas of desert could be the suppliers, but they need stability and investment. We have the technology, what is needed are large-scale plans, political plans, thinking big, to create the stable conditions that allow these investments to be made.
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