Elephants crossing road
Elephants crossing halt safari vehicles at Etosha National Park, Namibia. Photo: Midori Paxton/UNDP


The United Nations came into being following wars that caused death and havoc on a scale that I find hard to imagine. Today, as nations coalesce around the Sustainable Development Goals, they are looking towards the future, but not just forward. They are looking around and seeing the potential to harness nature’s power for our collective sustainable future.

On May 10, in the U.N. General Assembly, 143 nations voted to work towards establishing a Global Pact for the Environment - a wonderful prelude to this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity.  On May 22, we celebrate 25 years of action for biodiversity since the establishment of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Accelerated biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are causing hundreds of thousands of deaths.  Consequences of ecosystem degradation include air pollution, loss of soil fertility, decreasing water quality and quantity, and climate change induced disasters.  And it is the most vulnerable populations who are hardest hit, often causing them to migrate from their homes and villages due to loss of natural resources upon which they depend.  This in turn frequently leads to an upsurge in conflicts.

There are numerous examples of conflicts between pastoralists and subsistence farmers driven by ecosystem degradation. Because of degradation of southern rangelands, the nomad herders in Morocco are increasingly moving into forests towards the north that already have resident communities, leading to conflict. One study says that ecosystem degradation may lead to the migration of 135 million people by 2045.

Deterioration of ecosystem services, such as water availability and quality, often plays a key role in causing civil wars and transboundary conflict. Unprecedented drought in Syria between 2007 and 2010 is reported to have triggered an exodus of nearly 1.5 million farmers to cities in search of food and work, exacerbating conditions that possibly contributed to the outbreak of the civil war.

Healthy wildlife populations are an incredible asset for both local communities and national economies. For example, the value of wildlife tourism in Tanzania to the national economy is US$1.3 billion per year. Yet this rich, but fragile natural asset is in crisis due to poaching and illegal wildlife trade.  Transnational organized criminal networks in illegal wildlife trade, and the corruption underpinning wildlife crime, threaten both the rule of law, governance and security, rendering wildlife conservation a national and global security issue.

Addressing this intersection between nature, conflict, and migration is critical for human security and ensuring a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive society, leaving no-one behind.  UNDP’s work prioritizes efforts to safeguard our global heritage and assets. Nature-based solutions for a sustainable planet represent one of the six signature solutions UNDP is offering under its Strategic Plan 2018 – 2021

Nature for Life, is the theme of a UNDP event during this year’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York in July.  The event will highlight how nature is indispensable for human survival and well-being and how healthy ecosystems help sustain and foster peace and security.

It was the horror of wars and mass killings that led to the creation of the United Nations. Current patterns of ecosystem degradation and the extermination of species, now taking place on an unprecedented scale, represent just as great a menace but are often less obvious. Recurring statistics of destruction have even become repetitive and numbing – but they are real.  The alarm bells have been ringing since Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962.

We are graced with an amazingly beautiful world, home to millions of fellow species, and there is “no Planet B.”  It would be unforgivable and a shameful act of gross negligence if we allowed most of the life on our shared planet to perish. The next 10 years will determine the trajectory of human kind.  What will you do to be a game changer? 


Sunset over Maasai Mara National Park, Kenya. Photo: Midori Paxton/UNDP



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