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environment Day Special-1: COVID-19 forces us to listen to nature & science

Super Corona Crisis thwarts Super Year for Nature; As we approach the World Environment Day, let us examine the issues with a critical view.

NEW YORK, May 10, 2020: This year was supposed to be a ‘Super Year for Nature,’ says Jamison Ervin, Manager, Global Programme on Nature for Development, UNDP.  A number of global meetings such as a World Conservation Congress, a UN Ocean Conference, and a UN Nature Summit have been planned and all were to culminate in a global biodiversity conference that would agree on a decade-long 'Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework'.

This was supposed to be the year that launched the Decade of Restoration, and that finally acknowledged nature-based solutions in climate negotiations, says Ervin.

But COVID-19 has changed everything around us with the coronavirus teaching us many a lesson.

This pandemic is a wake-up call to stay within our planet’s limits, according to Nasha Lee, Environment Analyst, Climate Change & Energy, UNDP Malaysia, and Benjamin Ong,​ Head of  Exploration, ​UNDP Accelerator Lab Malaysia​.

“Over the last two decades, experts have been warning that biodiversity loss and the disruption of ecosystems can create conditions for new viruses and diseases to emerge. Global temperature rise alters the timing, geography and intensity of disease around the world, and could help to facilitate the rise of new disease outbreaks like COVID-19,” the duo say in an UNDP published article.

“The earth is a living organism, responding to signals and input much like the human body; now, it seems the planet is telling us to rest. It is high time to rethink industry and economic activity, moving away from the old paradigm of growth without limits, they say.

The signs of our planet healing while human activity comes to a standstill is a stark reminder of the tremendous impact humans have on our natural world: industries such as aviation take a huge toll on our planet’s carrying capacity and have contributed to accelerating the spread of the virus in our increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

If present trends in industrialisation, population growth and resource depletion continue unchanged, and if we do not respect the limits of our planet, then we are setting ourselves up for disaster, warn Lee and Ong. Notably, the food security and supply chain disruptions that we are facing now, are also likely scenarios in a climate emergency. On a more positive note, this interruption of business has turned the attention of food producers to communities in need closer to home, inspired an e-commerce giant to develop an online platform for local farmers and brought to light alternative delivery channels to keep supply chains moving.

“From political leaders and businesses, to civil society and local communities—we all need to respond to the climate crisis with the same bold resolve, putting in place policies and regulations to reduce our carbon footprint, braving behavioural shifts, and establishing socio-economic safety nets for the most vulnerable,” the UNDP officials opine.

Jamison Ervin calls for reating a nature-based planetary safety net by strengthening the weakest links in our global systems. Nature and our economic systems are inextricably interwoven. “Our global food system, for example, is vulnerable to biodiversity loss - as go the pollinators, so goes 35 percent of our global crops. With a million species at risk of extinction, including pollinators, we must shore up natural ecosystems as a planetary safety net for humanity,” says Erwin.

“We must be willing to take smart, strategic action. This means challenging the status quo, and the powerful interests that will resist change. We must listen to science, and understanding and avoiding nature’s tipping points. This means using the best available spatial data to make informed decisions about land use, says Erwin.