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The view from Kew: 40% of plant species threatened with extinction

By on October 9, 2021 0




Around the world, 40 percent of the world’s plant species are now threatened with extinction. Changes in land use, deforestation and climate change have devastated the planet.

So what is the solution ? The agenda with Stephen Cole went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a world-renowned center of expertise that recently broke the world record for the largest collection of living plants in a botanical garden at a single site – there are examples from nearly 17,000 species there.

As extinction fears grow, Kew’s Scientific director, Alexandre antonelli spoke about the true scale of the problem and what needs to come out of the COP15 meetings if we are to save the world.


Since 2019, professor of biodiversity Alexandre Antonelli has been scientific director of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew in London, where he leads a team of more than 300 scientists.

His passion is nature and his mission is to stop the loss of biodiversity. To meet this major challenge, he studies the distribution and evolution of species and develops methods to accelerate scientific discoveries.


“We are facing a huge and unprecedented crisis,” says Antonelli. “We talk a lot about the climate crisis and the challenge facing humanity – but at the same time, we now have about two out of five plant species threatened with extinction, about a million species that could go extinct in the next few years. years. decades. “

It is very clear on the cause of this possible disaster: “Although climate change is a major concern for society, it is actually land use change that is really the main driver of extinction and risk. for species today – the conversion of forests to agricultural land. “

Asked what needs to be done at COP15, Antonelli echoes much of what other stakeholders are saying. “We had targets that covered the period between 2011 and 2020. The targets were actually quite good, but we didn’t achieve any,” he says. “I really hope for COP15 in China that we have ambitious goals, but we also have a concrete plan to achieve them.”

Much of the odds of success, he says, will come down to one thing: money. “It comes down to the interest and willingness of our political and political decision-makers to really invest as much as necessary,” he insists. “We know it’s going to get expensive, we know we need substantial increases in funding to achieve some of these biodiversity goals. We need a commitment and a plan that will work in every country.

“It’s about finding the mechanisms by which there will be legal enforcement, for example, of how much of our land can be protected. We are now talking about an ecocide, a massive destruction of ecosystems. And that language needs to be clear in these agreements too. “

Antonelli says it has to be a global effort, one that involves all of us: “It’s not about making decisions by politicians and then individuals going on with their normal way of life – we have to assist. to a transformation at all levels of society, ”he warns. “It’s about the consumption choices we make. Every day we go to the supermarket, what we buy for food – are we contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon, to our destruction of natural habitats?

“This is the furniture we buy. It’s about the choices we make for our children in terms of pollutants and chemicals, pesticides. It is also about what is happening in our schools, in our councils, and the pressure we can put on them.


Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and the head of COP15, explains why she remains hopeful that the virtual summit can make real progress in saving the planet.

Wei Fuwen, professor at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explains how the giant and red pandas provide an object lesson on how to save a species.


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