As the pandemic starkly illustrates, the world must overhaul its relationship with nature, reverse destructive economic practices and protect fragile ecosystems, officials said Friday in advance of a China-hosted United Nations meeting on biodiversity set for October. “The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that mankind and nature are a community of shared future. We must deeply reflect to the relationship between mankind and nature, strengthen biodiversity conservation and effectively maintain global biosafety,” said Huang Runqiu, China’s environmental minister. “Biodiversity is the basis for the survival and development of mankind, as well as the lifeblood and foundation of the shared future for all life on Earth.” The coming meeting – called “COP15: Road to Kunming, Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth” – is set for the capital of Yunnan province for October 11-24 after being twice rescheduled due to the virus. In its latest iteration, the meeting will be a hybrid gathering of virtual and in-person participation. Kunming will be the latest in a series of meetings by nearly 200 nations that signed a key UN Biodiversity Convention in the early 1990s. In UN-speak, COP15 refers to the 15th such meeting by these countries, known as the Conference of the Parties. Many of the roughly 175 Zoom participants attending Friday’s run-up event, including numerous UN ambassadors, spoke eloquently on the need for action, shared goals and importance of consensus while touting their own country’s progress in helping the environment. “We should protect the nature and ecological environment like we protect our eyes,” said Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations. “Green mountains are gold mountains.” Glossed over by most were their own nations’ shortcomings – China and the United States are among the biggest culprits, the planet’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases by far. And while some 196 nations have ratified the biological diversity treaty that emerged from the landmark 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, the United States has yet to – despite moves by the new Biden administration to make the environment a key priority. UN Secretary General António Guterres offered a blunt assessment of the international community’s glacial efforts over decades to address environmental problems that threaten the Earth. “Let me frank. Humanity is waging a war on nature,” he said. “And the pressures are intensifying. We have failed to meet any of our international agreed biodiversity targets.” Guterres and other officials painted a bleak picture of the damage man is inflicting: a million species at risk of extinction; coral and wetlands disappearing; oceans overfished and choking on plastic; and the economic subsidies that effectively destroy air, land and water resources. “We’ll all be losers if we don‘t achieve peace with the planet,” he added. Officials from China – which has seen its global popularity decline recently in US, European and some Asian surveys over its trade policies, island building in the South China Sea and human rights violations – sought to burnish its reputation. Beijing has taken steps to tackle air and water pollution, protect threatened species and help poorer nations meet targets under its signature infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative, they said. These include the use of artificial intelligence, big data, 5G telecommunication and cloud computing, Guo Huadong, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said. China also engaged in a bit of soft-power branding involving its favourite beverage on Friday, which is International Tea Day. Officials cited China’s role in discovering the wild plant, pioneering more sustainable cultivation and bringing enjoyment to the world. “Tea is a vivid example to closely connect between biodiversity and human life,” said Huang. But tea also epitomises some of the global challenges and shortcomings in efforts to save the planet, noted Irene Hoffman, head of a genetic resources committee with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Association. The global tea industry relies too much on a few plant varieties, contributing to a lack of genetic diversity that depletes the soil and impedes the development of helpful microbes, she said. “There is an urgent need to step up conservation efforts,” she added.