By Alice Ruhweza
In the face of the unprecedented crisis of nature loss, as the dominant species on the planet we have the moral responsibility to preserve the diversity of life on earth.
But nature conservation is not only a matter of morality – it is also vitally important to humanity’s development. From the air that we breathe to the water we drink and the food we eat, nature provides the essentials we all rely on for our survival and well-being, including crucial emotional, health, economic, cultural and spiritual benefits.
For majority of people in Africa, nature is their lifeline. Beyond the beauty and inspiration, nature supports the continents growing economies.
As the race to extract Africa’s natural resources heats up, there should be a “win-win” situation for people and nature. Sustainable development can only be achieved if nature is protected and real value is placed on its services.
However, if we continue at this rate of overexploitation and destruction of natural resources, development could come at the expense of people and nature. If we are not careful our development will undermine natural assets that underpine nature and eco system services that we all benefit from.
The science has never been clearer on the impact of human activities on nature and the consequences we will be facing. This alarming nature loss and climate change are two sides of today’s ecological crisis and challenge – and must be tackled together. However, while the climate emergency has led to concerted global action, the world’s response to nature loss has lagged behind.
Evidenced by recent IPBES and Living Planet reports, Africa is now on the red as a result of human activities. The proof of destruction is overwhelming witnessed by massive loss of biodivesity and nature. We now face climate change impacts that direcly affect our lives and well being. In the last year alone, Southern Africa was hit hard by Tropical Cyclone Idai and Kenneth leaving a trail of destruction, spread of diseases and loss of hundreds of human lives.
Across the world, nature loss and wildlife decline are occurring on a scale not seen for millions of years. Not only will the disappearance of so many unique animals and plants be a tragic loss that will diminish the beauty of our world, but the continuing decline of our environment is undermining our ability to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and also bringing major negative impacts and risks for human societies worldwide.
We need global collective actions
Against the backdrop of this urgency, there is also opportunity. 2020 is a special year for the environment: the UN Convention on Biological Diversity must define its post 2020 global biodiversity framework, and the Paris Accord can raise the ambition of its Nationally Determined Contributions on Climate change.
These issues we face today are global in nature. Ignoring them puts the health, well-being, and prosperity of over seven billion people on the planet under threat.
The crucial ecosystem services provided by nature, which underpin human well-being and survival, are at immense risk. Urgent, decisive, global action to bend the curve on devastating nature loss is needed to secure the future of humanity.
Climate, nature, and sustainable development issues are closely interlinked and cannot be addressed in silos. To accelerate progress on achieving global goals set by world leaders in these areas, we need to make nature a top priority and forge an integrated approach to climate, nature, and sustainable development.
Nature is essential to human health and well-being. It is also the foundation for a stable global economy. Countries must ensure they continue to work to deliver a strong and ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework within the CBD negotiation process, including through the utilization of adequate technologies and written submissions where possible to replace physical meetings. And must step up ambition to tackle climate change, in particular through nature-based solutions such as addressing unsustainable agriculture and deforestation.
Raising global ambition for nature
We have before us an unparalleled opportunity as we head into 2020 − a critical year in a number of ways. The world will review its progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the goals related to nature, and take the next important step with the Paris Agreement as countries enhance and improve their nationally determined contributions.
A new 10-year strategic plan for biodiversity under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity will be agreed and the world will come together to celebrate 75 years of the UN. It is also proposed that 2020 will be the beginning of the decade of ecosystems restoration.
We need a global collective decision, a New Deal For Nature and People, by 2020 to bring together these as yet disconnected efforts. This should be reflected in a strong endorsement by Heads of State in 2020 that strengthens global targets and mechanisms to reverse the loss of nature and to protect and restore nature by 2030, in support of and underpinned by the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.
African states and governments should take the lead in capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity by substantially strengthening the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) through:
1. A new narrative that positions a healthy planet as indispensable for human development.
2. A post-2020 CBD framework equipped with fewer, ambitious, and measurable targets to mitigate the drivers of nature loss and contribute more effectively to mitigating climate change.
3. National actions by all countries to address the loss of nature which will, collectively, add up to delivering strengthened global targets.
The world must commit to halting and reversing biodiversity loss and placing nature on the path to recovery by 2030. A New Deal for Nature and People would mean zero human-induced species extinctions, zero loss of natural habitats and halving the footprint of production and consumption.
New Deal for Nature and People
A New Deal for Nature and People is needed. A deal that makes it socially, politically, and economically unacceptable to sit back and watch the destruction of nature. A deal focused on tackling the underlying root causes of nature’s decline. A deal that not only stops the catastrophic loss of nature but leads to a collective global programme of recovery.
Africa needs to lead this effort through setting ambitious nature protection targets that embrace local communities as a solution to protecting landscapes and improving livelihoods, combating poverty, and increasing wellbeing standards.
The New Deal for Nature and People agenda is a great opportunity to galvanise African governments, business and society at large to be able to make tangible changes to the continent and world we live in today, and the future, for our children.
In the year ahead, world leaders will be taking critical decisions on nature, climate, and sustainable development. Whether these run on schedule or are delayed allowing enough time to prepare well, they represent a momentous opportunity to rebalance our relationship with nature. Together, we can secure a New Deal for Nature and People that safeguards both people and planet.
Response to COVID19
The coronavirus has taken a toll on nations around the world, eating up some of the gains of social and economic development in the recent years, yet, its emergence has been closely related to excessive exploitation of nature. The connections of the emergence of COVID19 with various dimension of nature and biodiversity loss further emphasis the need to rethink human interactions with nature and reflect the true value of nature in our development matrix. Therefore, as part of its response to the COVID19 pandemic, WWF in the region of Africa is working with various pan-African youth networks on various initiatives to increase public awareness on the need to re-think, reset and re-calibrate human interactions with nature. WWF enjoins various stakeholders especially the policy makers across the to embrace the message of nature conservation and biodiversity not only as a moral responsibility but also as a crucial path to sustainable development in Africa.
Alice Ruhweza is Africa Regional Director World Wide Fund for Nature International