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We must act decisively to save our world

By Harrison Ford, Special to CNN
  • Harrison Ford calls on ministers to set "bold, ambitious targets" to protect nature
  • Says the earth's ecological foundation "is already severely stressed"
  • Urges leaders to back policies to protect at least 25 percent of Earth's land mass by 2020
  • Calls on the U.S. to ratify the Convention on Biodiversity

Editor's Note: Actor and environmentalist Harrison Ford is also the Vice Chairman of Conservation International, an organization that seeks to protect and conserve the Earth's natural resources. He's at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan, where delegates are working to agree new targets for biodiversity over the next 10 years.

Nagoya, Japan (CNN) -- This week, I have had the opportunity to meet with ministers and country delegates from around the world who have gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to set a global conservation action plan for the next ten years.

This is a critical moment in time for environmental ministers gathered here to work together to set bold, ambitious targets to protect nature and the services it provides. Decisions made here will not only impact our planet's environmental health, but every person, family, and nation that depend on nature to survive and thrive.

Biodiversity is the foundation of all life on Earth. Human societies cannot provide for themselves the essential services provided by nature and healthy ecosystems. Among them: A stable climate, clean air, fresh water, insect populations that pollinate our food crops, healthy soils, and sources of pharmaceuticals for human health.

However, biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction pose a global challenge of unprecedented proportions. The current rate of species extinction is 1,000 times the expected natural rate.

While the concept of biodiversity can be complicated, think of it as is the very fabric of life on earth and each species a thread. How many threads can we lose before the fabric is in tatters?

No matter how powerful our drive for improving the human condition we will not succeed over the long haul if Nature is not healthy.

Evidence is everywhere around the globe.

Video: Ford spreads environmental word
Video: Harrison Ford on environment

For example, more than one billion people currently lack reliable access to clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion lack adequate access to sanitation. Global fish stocks -- food security for one billion people -- have fallen by 90 percent.

NATURE doesn't need people. PEOPLE need nature.

Over the next 30 years, three billion people are expected to join us. Within this short space we will need to double our food output and fresh water availability. And all of this must be achieved on a planet whose ecological foundation is already severely stressed.

If we honestly assessed the economic value of the services that nature proves humanity, we would understand that we have undervalued our healthy ecosystems.

These are daunting problems, but a solution to these challenges is available.

Protected areas -- both on land and in our oceans -- constitute a pivotal cornerstone in halting biodiversity loss.

In fact, in a world facing tremendous pressure to convert intact ecosystems into other forms of land use -- from agriculture to urbanization -- protected areas are likely to be the ONLY intact natural environments that will remain in many regions impacted by human activity.

To this end, I urge our global leaders to strongly support policies to protect at least 25 percent of Earth's land mass and 15 percent of Earth's oceans by 2020.

As important as the number is the fact that these areas are chosen carefully. They must include those areas of our planet that are particularly important to global biodiversity AND ALSO provide critical ecosystem services. Simply put -- those areas that nature and humanity most need to survive.

Our world is at a tipping point, and we can choose to save it -- and ourselves -- but we must act decisively, and we must act now
--Harrison Ford

It is clear that the costs of protecting intact ecosystems, with their multitude of services, are far outweighed by the benefits.

Protecting biodiversity is in our self-interest. As the father of five children, I can think of no greater responsibility.

While important decisions are being made here in Nagoya about the future health of our planet, one country is missing: The United States.

Seventeen years ago, President Clinton committed the United States to ratifying the Convention on Biodiversity. It has still not happened. We are essentially alone in refusing to join this agreement that we, as a nation, were instrumental in drafting.

What this means is that our country does not have a seat at the table in shaping global environmental policies that support the protection of nature and long-term sustainable economic development. Our national interests in the agricultural, research, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors will be affected, but we will have no vote. That makes no sense.

As an American citizen I urge my government to ratify this convention's treaty. I hope you join me in encouraging your political leaders to do the same.

The future of each of our nations, of the entire community of nations, will be impacted by the choices made this week. Our world is at a tipping point, and we can choose to save it -- and ourselves -- but we must act decisively, and we must act now.

There has been news that gives us cause for hope with the announcement of the "Life in Harmony" Initiative by the Government of Japan. This $2 billion investment provides critical assistance to countries that are focused on the conservation and sustainable use of their natural ecosystems.

This is exactly the type of leadership that is needed by our governments to ensure the protection of our global biodiversity, and the future of humanity.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Harrison Ford.