At the end of his life, Charles Darwin said he wished he had done more for his fellow creatures.

Could the most recent World Nature Summit in Kunming, China, help ensure that Darwin's insight does not only become clear to us shortly before the gate closes?

The summit was the focus of global attention for a week and showed that nature is essential for survival. The global ocean feeds 20 percent of the world's population and gives us oxygen in every second breath. 75 percent of our food crops are pollinated by mosquitoes, bees, butterflies or birds. Plants heal four billion people. 70 percent of cancer drugs alone are natural products or are inspired by them. Green oases in the city not only help against heat build-up, they have been proven to help people get along better with one another. The list is long.

While the world met virtually in Kunming, nature - and with it our future - was fobbed off with declarations of intent that were far too vague.

Perhaps it was naive to hope that this summit would take up the complex topic of nature constructively and consider the reports of the World Climate and World Biodiversity Council, resolve measurable goals and make binding commitments for the states to act.

As early as 2010, the world community agreed on the so-called Aichi goals for the protection of biodiversity and nature, and as with climate protection, these goals were hardly achieved.

In Kunming they have not yet been substantially strengthened.

But the real summit will follow in spring 2022 - so there is enough time to forge global coalitions for profound change.

Solutions cannot be prescribed

Nature is still seen as an infinite resource, an exploitable source. Humans have changed three quarters of all land areas and two thirds of the world's ocean so fundamentally that natural habitats have been destroyed. Man-made climate change and global mobility encourage the spread of species and pathogens to new areas.

There are clear recommendations for action. The report for political decision-makers of the World Biodiversity Council is - like the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - a solid scientific basis for our future actions and for all upcoming contracts. When it comes to protecting nature, we cannot again allow decades to pass before we come from scientific knowledge to the first correct approaches to political action. Our country has everything it needs to do this. The trinity of sustainability, digitality and participation as well as justice can make Germany, as a modern economy and science country, a global role model among democracies.

But solutions cannot be prescribed.

They can only be designed together by everyone whose skills are needed.

We need a cultural change in science, politics, society and the economy.

A new, open science is central to this.

It must be designed across disciplines, strive for honest dialogue and partnerships with civil society, politics and business and thus jointly create knowledge for effective solutions.

Action is better than non-action: there is still the possibility of not having to follow in Darwin's footsteps.

The author is general director of the Museum für Naturkunde and professor for biodiversity and scientific dialogue at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

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