Celebrating biodiversity amidst a pandemic

June 4, 2020

Today is World Environment Day, with the theme of ‘Celebrating Biodiversity.’ As much of the world is still under COVID-19 restrictions, there are many causes for celebrating reports of free-roaming wildlife, from sea lions to jaguars, llamas to elephants, dolphins to monkeys, penguins to kangaroos. An equal cause for celebration is the number of people who are newly connecting with whatever bit of nature they can watch from their windows, gardens and natural spaces. An increase in awareness and celebration of nature is an unexpected and welcome consequence of months of home confinement.

A planetary emergency
But many other reports forebode a different and far more sobering message. We are on track to lose a million species by mid-century, the Amazon forest is dangerously close to a tipping point, as are coral reefs around the world, and we are witnessing species population collapses from insects to elephants.

These losses in biodiversity have profound consequences for humanity. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report shows the cascading risks of unraveling ecosystems, including water shortages, human-made natural disasters, involuntary migration and social instability. A new report called Nature’s Risk Rising shows that more than half of all global GDP is dependent on nature. Last year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that deforestation and agriculture account for a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. We are facing a planetary nature emergency that puts all of us, and our future, at risk.

It’s time to build a safety net
One of the hardest lessons of the pandemic has been the sudden revelation of the societal cracks and fault lines of our global exposure to risk. Our safety nets are weak, our economic systems are failing us by leaving vulnerable community members behind and exacerbating inequality, and our resilience to unforeseen shocks is shockingly low. Yet all of this is just a prelude to what is in store if we continue to allow biodiversity to disappear. Nature underpins our wellbeing, our economy, our livelihoods and our lives. Nature loss makes us vulnerable to social and economic shocks, including future pandemics.
It is time for a global reset of our relationship with nature, and it is time for a global reckoning with the underlying drivers and the consequences of biodiversity loss. Most of all, it is time to build a nature-based planetary safety net, by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring ecosystems around the world, to buffer us from future shocks.

Transformative change
To accomplish this, we must embark on transformative change. We must transform our systems for producing food and fiber, our planning and management of landscapes and seascapes, and our systems of finance and investment, which accelerate biodiversity loss. We must also transform our relationship with indigenous peoples and local communities everywhere, whose lands represent many of the last areas of the world’s remaining intact species habitats. Most of all we must begin to recognize, value and celebrate the role biodiversity plays in sustaining humanity.

The Equator Prize
To accomplish transformative change, we need to identify and celebrate stories of change that point us toward a new future, one that repositions nature at the very heart of sustainable development. At the UNDP-led Equator Initiative, we’ve been doing just that for almost two decades, by identifying local community initiatives that use nature-based solutions to thrive, and awarding them with the Equator Prize.

The theme of this year’s Equator Prize is ‘Nature for Life’ with a focus on celebrating local initiatives that recognize nature’s value for water security, climate and livelihoods. Communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, and Myanmar show how sustainably managing nature can help maintain livelihoods, provide incomes and allow communities to prosper in harmony with nature. Communities in Indonesia, Canada, Kenya and Guatemala show how protecting intact forests, peatlands, and mangroves, and practicing sustainable agriculture can keep carbon in the ground. Communities in Thailand, Madagascar and Ecuador show how protecting and restoring forests, wetlands, rivers and lakes can also protect precious water resources for drinking water and irrigation. This year’s winners also showcase the importance of social inclusion, gender equality, equitable benefits sharing, land and tenure rights and good governance.

Please join us in celebrating the ten local stories of change of the Equator Prize 2020 that, together with the other 245 Equator Prize winners from past years, represent a greener, brighter, more just and more resilient future.