On 5 June, we mark World Environment Day. We often observe such international days to shine a spotlight on that which might otherwise remain invisible, and this is the case with nature. Nature is invisible in the marketplace – there is rarely a distinction between the chocolate bar that comes from a cleared rainforest and one that comes from a sustainable agroforestry community enterprise. Nature is invisible in our policies, such as when we subsidize fossil fuels, or provide incentives to overuse pesticides.
Nature is also invisible in our waste stream – we are facing a global waste crisis that the world has largely ignored. The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is ‘beating plastic pollution’. Many people may know that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Microplastics are a far more insidious problem; 83 percent of tap water, 73 percent of Northwest Atlantic fish, and 29 percent of all airborne particles contain plastic microfibres.
The improbable, invisible source? Ninety-four percent of all microplastics are from synthetic clothing fibres, dust from synthetic rubber tyres, city dust and road paint. If we don’t address the growing crisis of marine plastic pollution now, we will face an even greater crisis in plastic microfibres in the coming years.
Nature may be invisible in national and global economies, but it plays an indivisible role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nature is essential for achieving Goal 6 on water – three out of four people depend on forests for their drinking water. It is essential for Goal 1 on poverty and Goal 8 on decent work - five out of seven people depend on fisheries, forests or agriculture for their livelihoods. It is essential to achieve Goal 13 on climate action – 38 percent of our climate mitigation needs can be found in nature-based solutions. We cannot afford for nature to remain invisible.
Our team, the Nature for Development Programme, aims to make visible the indivisible role of nature in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in three ways. First, every other year we run the Equator Prize, celebrating local, nature-based solutions for sustainable development that are often hidden in plain sight. These solutions represent a range of ideas that can be scaled up to tackle global problems. Second, together with UN Environment and the Convention on Biological Diversity, we support 140 countries in reporting on the national status of biodiversity. This is an urgent task – in the last set of national reports, fewer than four percent of all reported actions referenced ecosystem services. We help by providing spatial data and technical support, to enable countries to report on nature’s contributions to essential ecosystem services. Third, we host the New York Declaration on Forests, a global platform to increase the visibility of efforts by corporations, governments, finance institutions and communities to end deforestation and to restore degraded forests.
This year we’re trying something new. To help make nature – and the people around the world who support and value nature – more visible, we have launched a campaign called “I stand for nature”. UNDP’s Administrator, Achim Steiner, issued his challenge to #beatplasticpollution. You can choose yours too – visit www.natureforlife.world, and select any of the challenges, including:
- Share your ‘I stand for nature’ profile on social media, using the hashtag #IStandForNature.
- Show your support for endangered species by creating a profile and sharing it on social media, using the hashtag #WildForLife.
- Take steps to reduce, refuse, reuse and recycle plastic; share your photo on social media using the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution, and tag three friends.
- Try a vegetarian dinner and post photos of your meal, using the hashtag “#MeatlessMonday.
- Look for labels that certify that your food is from a sustainable source, including ocean and farmed fish, palm oil, sugar, bananas and other tropical foods, and organic fruits and vegetables. Share pictures on social media, using the hashtag #CertifiedFood.
- See if your favourite brand is committed to preventing deforestation. If they are doing well, congratulate them and tag them in a social media post, using the hashtag #EndDeforestation. If not, tag them and ask what they plan to do to end deforestation.
- Ask your favourite institution – your bank, university, religious institution – whether it is investing in actions that support or harm nature. Share the results using the hashtag #InvestInNature.
- Take a walk! There is nothing better for connecting with nature than taking a walk in a forest, in a field, along a stream or on the beach, in one of more than 250,000 protected areas. Post a photo of yourself standing in nature, and share it on social media, using the hashtag #IStandForNature.
- Start a conversation! Tell your friends and family what you are doing to Stand for Nature, or share your story on social media, using the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutNature.
This World Environment Day, let’s find ways to keep nature visible longer than one day; tell the world how and why you stand for nature and spread the word!
About the author
Jamison Ervin manages the Global Programme on Nature for Development in UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. Follow her on Twitter: @jamisonervin