Preserving the natural world on which our well-being depends requires more than lofty rhetoric from national leaders. It demands bold breakthroughs in international environmental cooperation that can bridge the chasm between a global political system divided into nearly 200 independent countries and a unitary biosphere that obeys no sovereign boundaries. It is time to govern the world as if the Earth mattered.3
The global environmental emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic, has exposed the limitations of traditional political realism as a guide to statecraft in an age of planetary threats. That venerable perspective, elaborated by Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as more recent thinkers and practitioners like Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger, still dominates the study and practice of foreign policy, not least in the United States.45 It depicts the international system as a fundamentally anarchic, cutthroat realm in which nations must be ever vigilant of the prospect of violence and nurture military capabilities to defend themselves. Alas, any step that one state takes to enhance its power inevitably makes others feel vulnerable, producing the well-known security dilemma.46 International institutions and alliances can dampen but never eliminate these dynamics, which are rooted in the human desire to dominate and the absence of world government.
Unfortunately, the CBD has failed miserably to slow the loss of ecosystems and species.130 This was not the plan back in 2010, when its parties met in Nagoya, Japan, and endorsed the so-called Aichi targets, pledging to protect fragile habitats, lower extinction rates, preserve genetic diversity, reduce pollution, eliminate invasive species, adopt sustainable agriculture and fisheries practices, and generally elevate biodiversity in their national development plans.131 The world failed to deliver on any of these aspirations, in part because the targets were vague, lacked quantifiable indicators against which to assess progress, and were poorly aligned to specific national commitments for which governments could be held accountable.132 In the intervening decade, the state of global biodiversity has gone from bad to worse, thanks to the continued degradation of landscapes and seascapes, quickening climate change, overexploitation of animals and plants, massive nutrient and other forms of pollution, and the introduction of invasive species.
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