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Covid-19: ‘our solutions are in nature’

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Global leaders call for awareness about the importance of biodiversity, promotion of ecosystem-based solutions to build a future in harmony with nature 


Herald Report


Islamabad: As the world is reeling from the devastating impact of coronavirus, world leaders have called on the global community to “re-examine our relationship to the natural world, create knowledge and awareness about the importance of biodiversity and promote ecosystem-based solutions that address biodiversity loss, climate change, and land degradation.

What we have learned from Covid-19 is that despite all our technological advancements we are completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter and energy.

While there is a growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to future generations, the number of species is being significantly reduced by certain human activities. Given the importance of public education and awareness about this issue, the UN decided in 2011 to celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

This year’s theme “Our solutions are in nature” emphasizes hope, solidarity and the importance of working together at all levels to build a future of life in harmony with nature.

“As we encroach on nature and deplete vital habitats, increasing numbers of species are at risk. That includes humanity and the future we want,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

In a video message marking the Day, Mr Guterres highlighted that “COVID-19 – which emanated from the wild – has shown how human health is intimately connected with our relationship to the natural world.”

He emphasized the need to work together to preserve biodiversity in order to achieve the SDGs as we “seek to build back better from the current crisis.”

Preserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is necessary for mitigating climate disruption, guaranteeing water and food security and even preventing pandemics.

That is how we will protect health and well-being for generations to come.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), highlighted the need to build a resilient and sustainable global economy that incorporates nature and equitable sharing of its benefits.

The theme reminds us of the importance of biodiversity and its services for our wellbeing and development, highlighting the interconnections between humans and nature. It is also a tribute to the scientists, conservation professionals, frontline staff and communities whose tireless efforts have helped preserve the last wilderness areas on Earth, says David Molden, Director-General of the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary UN Convention on Biological Diversity

“I would like to congratulate my ICIMOD colleagues and the other professionals who contribute to the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which recently won the 2020 WIN WIN Gothenburg Sustainability Award for its “decisive role in outlining the drivers of biodiversity loss, communicating the magnitude of the problem and laying the groundwork for a new agenda and transformative change in relation to biodiversity”, he noted.

The loss of biodiversity threatens us all. Studies have shown how the emergence and re-emergence of zoonotic disease is closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems. The intrusion into and destruction of wildlife habitats undermines the health and ability of ecosystems to support human wellbeing. The global pandemic highlights more than ever that the world needs to come together and reaffirm its commitment to conserving biodiversity and building a future in harmony with nature, said Mr Molden.

Highlighting nature’s contributions towards lives and livelihoods in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), he said, “the HKH is a fragile environment with rich cultural and biological diversity and diverse ecosystems. The region – with four global biodiversity hotspots, 11 of 200 global ecoregions, 17 world heritage sites, and diverse rangelands, forests, agro-ecosystems and wetlands – provides a range of ecosystem goods and services to the region and beyond.”

However, according to Mr Molden, the region is also highly susceptible to change, including climate change, with severe impacts on people and nature. The HKH sits at the top of the world and changes happen here before they happen anywhere else. “The HKH is, therefore, the pulse of the planet,” he said.

David Molden, Director-General

To protect this pulse, ICIMOD has advocated, among other things, the pursuit of nature-based solutions (NbS) that combine the best of age-old traditional practices and modern science to address emerging challenges. This is in recognition of the fact that the wellbeing of mountain people depends on healthy natural ecosystems that produce a diverse range of ecosystem goods and services. It is well established that nature-based solutions have the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change, support biodiversity, and sustain the flow of ecosystem services.

Over the last three decades, we have worked intensively to conceptualise, plan and promote transboundary landscape initiatives across the HKH that have converted conservation and development challenges into opportunities through integrated approaches that employ NbS tools.

In line with the theme for this year, Mr Molden said, “we have embarked on new NbS initiatives to promote clean energy options and reduce emissions and atmospheric pollution in the region. We are also scaling-up and scaling-out proven nature-based solutions like organic agriculture and soil and water resource conservation interventions, including the rejuvenation of mountain springs, to conserve and sustain the flow of ecosystem services.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges. Several biodiversity-rich areas are seeing new threats due to numerous scenarios unfolding from the pandemic, including poaching, logging, and other extractive activities.

At the same time, the pandemic has resulted in cleaner air and water and a general realisation of the importance of nature and human interactions. The clean air, views of the mountains and wildlife sightings have fired the public imagination and offered glimpses of an alternative future, he quipped.

“We must use this time to reflect on the consequences of our actions on biodiversity and pivot away from business as usual. We are working hard to assess the various issues occupying the foreground of conservation and development debates during this pandemic. We will be coming out with a policy document that will look at the impacts, risks, and vulnerabilities that have been exposed by the pandemic, as well as the opportunities for biodiversity conservation in the mountains in a post-pandemic world.

What is biodiversity

Biological diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms, but it also includes genetic differences within each species — for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock — and the variety of ecosystems (lakes, forest, deserts, agricultural landscapes) that host multiple kinds of interactions among their members (humans, plants, animals), says a UN report. Biological diversity resources are the pillars upon which we build civilizations. Fish provide 20 per cent of animal protein to about 3 billion people. Over 80 per cent of the human diet is provided by plants. As many as 80 per cent of people living in rural areas in developing countries rely on traditional plant‐based medicines for basic healthcare.

But the loss of biodiversity threatens all, including our health. It has been proven that biodiversity loss could expand zoonoses — diseases transmitted from animals to humans — while, on the other hand, if we keep biodiversity intact, it offers excellent tools to fight against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses.

According to the UN, 2020 is a year of reflection, opportunity and solutions. It is expected, from each of us, that we will “Build Back Better” by using this time to increase the resilience of nations and communities as we recover from this pandemic. 2020 is the year when, more than ever, the world can signal a strong will for a global framework that will “bend the curve” on biodiversity loss for the benefit of humans and all life on Earth.

It focuses on science and traditional knowledge as a way to understand the drivers of biodiversity loss and pathways for a sustainable future, and linkages among biodiversity, climate, and land.

The year 2020 is significant for international biodiversity policy for a number of reasons. The objectives in the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan on Biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets were set to be achieved by the close of the year. In addition, the 2011-2020 UN Decade on Biodiversity is coming to a close. Reflections on these experiences are feeding into planning for the “post-2020” global biodiversity framework, which will provide a 2050 vision for biodiversity. The negotiation of a new framework is underway.

Leaders from around the world are expected to focus on this framework at the UN Biodiversity Summit, in September. The new framework is scheduled to be adopted at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15).

While the COVID-19 pandemic has postponed some of these preparations and pushed them into 2021, the celebration of International Day for Biological Diversity aims to prompt reflection on the importance of working together at all levels to build a future of life in harmony with nature.

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