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EDITORIAL: Environment Head off a sixth mass extinction

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Dec. 6—It’s a clear and chilling warning: The globe’s creatures and plants are on the brink of a sixth mass extinction, comparable to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

This week’s long awaited United Nations conference on biological diversity offers a chance for countries to make commitments to protect critical waters and lands.

Three years ago an exhaustive U.N. report, the first since 2005, showed everywhere on earth is seeing declines. One million species are at risk of extinction. Minnesota alone has 150 species of animals and plants on the verge of extinction.

Human activity has altered nearly 75% of earth’s surface, pushing nature to ever smaller corners of the world. The changes also increase the risks for disease like COVID-19. Already, two million people die every year from neglected zoonotic diseases, according to the U.N.

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For the trend to be reversed nations need to have very specific goals for how they will protect land and water and how they will fund it. For the goals to be effective there must be a way to accurately measure and report progress.

Turning the tide is not impossible. Progress has already been made in some areas, such as more sustainable forest management. And the importance of protecting water resources is gaining ground.

Still, much needs to be done.

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The rapid rise in invasive species — aquatic, plant and animal — is familiar to Minnesotans who’ve seen everything from Asian carp to buckthorn. An earlier U.N. conference developed a proposal to cut in half the rate of invasive species to slow degradation of lakes, rivers, forests and prairies.

There is also an ambitious goal of protecting 30% of earth’s land and water by 2030. The United States has adopted the goal but the details remain to be worked out.

Reversing mass extinctions isn’t needed just to protect the animals and plants. We rely on nature for our survival, be it pollinators for our crops or clean water to drink.

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While getting nations across the globe to agree on anything is tough, more and more countries are seeing and understanding the risks of allowing the earth to continue to be degraded. Now they need to show they will commit to doing something about it.

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