UN’s eight ‘transitions’ to save natural world

Plant-based food one of key planks in blueprint to arrest and reverse humanity’s destruction of nature

Bluefish tuna swimming in the sea, a young orangutan in a tree and a polar bear with two young polar bears

A new UN report on the state of the natural world paints a grim picture: under humanity’s stewardship, and despite increasing awareness of our predicament, things are bad – and getting worse. But it sets out a plan for sorting out this mess, and it begins with the plant-based food on your plate.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook report (GBO-5), published by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reveals that none of the 20 biodiversity targets set out a decade ago in Aichi, Japan, have been met, and six only partially. Now it is calling for eight urgent “transitions” to help slow and stop the damage being done to nature, including urging a shift to meat free eating.

Five years ago, at a meeting to check progress towards the Aichi targets, meat-reducing was simply a recommendation. Now – after a period described by the RSPB as a “lost decade for nature” – circumstances have obliged the UN to take a firmer stance. It is time we listened to the scientists and swapped meat and fish for plant-based alternatives, it insists, while at the same time cutting down on the almost criminal amount of food we waste. Governments have a terrible record of advocating diets that benefit people and planet.

The seven other transitions in the GBO-5 report cover land and forests; sustainable agriculture; sustainable fisheries and oceans; cities and infrastructure; sustainable freshwater; sustainable climate action; and biodiversity-inclusive health.

“The rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the CBD’s executive secretary. “Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.

“This flagship report underlines that ‘humanity stands at a crossroads with regard to the legacy we wish to leave to future generations’.”

The CBD is well acquainted with Meat Free Monday and our role in helping people learn about the benefits and delights of vegetarian and vegan food. In a 10th anniversary message to MFM last year, Mrema’s predecessor, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, said: “Meat Free Monday provides an opportunity to question our daily habits and make changes for our benefit and that of our planet. Choosing to eat less meat can contribute to reducing pressure on land and water use.

Palmer added: “Livestock production is the largest driver of habitat loss and it is increasing in tropical countries, which together harbour the majority of biological biodiversity. [It] also places intense pressure on pollinators, predators and wild herbivores and thus has a direct impact on biodiversity loss.”

The coronavirus pandemic has presented the world with an “unprecedented opportunity to ‘build back better'”, using the report’s eight transitions as a blueprint, according to Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general. That meant a more co-ordinated global response to tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, he added, and an understanding “both that climate change threatens to undermine all other efforts to conserve biodiversity; and that nature itself offers some of the most effective solutions to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet”.

Read the report