'Decade of action': Our solutions are in nature

'Decade of action': Our solutions are in nature

May 22 marks the International Day of Biological Diversity (IDB), an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the important role biodiversity and ecosystems play to sustain all lives on our planet.

Humanity depends on the goods and services that ecosystems provide, from food to medicine, oxygen to clean water, energy, livelihoods and recreation.

But too often our existential reliance on nature is forgotten as development progresses at the expense of finite biodiversity resources.

This year's theme of IDB "Our Solutions are in Nature" has never been more relevant as humanity is challenged by the Covid-19 crisis. The outbreak is providing us a strong lesson that when nature is stressed, it creates multiplying effects to our lives.

Even if the exact causes are yet to be confirmed, it seems the virus was transmitted from a wild animal to humans through consumption and/or close contact. Wildlife and humans must be kept separate.

But deforestation, land use change, unsustainable agriculture, exacerbated by weak law enforcement, poor management and the illegal wildlife trade have led to shrinking habitats, bringing wildlife closer to humans.

The Covid-19 crisis and how we respond to its impacts provides a unique opportunity to pause, reflect and rethink how we balance humans and nature to ensure a harmonious relationship.

According to a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, global biodiversity resources are declining rapidly toward extinction. Native species in major land-based habitats have fallen by at least 20% since 1900. Over 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. Within a decade, 1 million animal and plant species could disappear due to human-induced activities.

These negative trends will undermine progress towards diverse issues being addressed by the Sustainable Development Goals -- poverty, hunger, health, gender, water, inequality, cities, climate, oceans and land.

Loss of biodiversity is therefore not only an environmental issue, but also an economic, social, health and security issue, posing risks to our economies and societies, threatening livelihoods and widening inequality. The impacts are particularly felt by the populations who heavily rely on natural resources for their subsistence, such as the indigenous people.

This year had been named the Super Year for Nature and Biodiversity with several global meetings planned to find solutions to these critical issues: A World Conservation Congress, a UN Ocean Conference, a UN Nature Summit and a Climate Conference.

This year is supposed to see the roll out of a new 10-year "Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework" and the launch of a Decade of Ecosystem Restoration; and new nature-based solutions are expected to be tabled at climate negotiation meetings.

The United Nations has declared 2020 the Decade of Action, calling all member states to accelerate their progress toward the SDGs as most countries lag behind on many if not all the 17 goals.

Covid-19 has derailed all these plans, with cancellation or postponement of meetings, not to mention reallocation of resources and efforts. And this is most unfortunate as the crisis is highlighting the urgency to find solutions to all these issues.

Despite all that, there is some good news. The significant economic slowdown has helped nature to recuperate and wildlife habitats to recover. Marine lives are reproducing, wildlife trade has reduced and wild animals are more commonly observed in their habitats and beyond. We must turn this crisis into an opportunity by harnessing our collective efforts and investment towards a better future after Covid-19.

Biodiversity conservation must be prioritised by local governments and implemented by local communities with tangible benefits to them. In Thailand, the Biodiversity-based Economy Development Organization (BEDO), under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, has been promoting a new biodiversity conservation model which links economic and social benefits to the communities which help protect it. A native mango species in Bang Kachao and razor clams in Don Hoi Lod are now protected from unsustainable practices as locals realise their economic value and gain from it.

UNDP's tiger conservation project in the Huay Kha Khaeng World Heritage Site engages local communities in wildlife tourism, turning them away from wildlife hunting to ecotourism, coffee growing and organic farming. Again, local people are the best protectors of pristine resources.

Tourism post-Covid-19 must be greener and more sustainable, with benefits being shared among local communities, government and small businesses. UNDP, together with BEDO and other public and private partners, are designing a new biodiversity-based tourism model in Thailand to demonstrate this principle, with ecological coping capacity used to determine the appropriate number of tourists in a given area to avoid negative impacts.

Biodiversity management in Thailand requires a mix of public and private funds to close the financial gap of nearly 31.8 billion baht with innovative finance solutions. With support from UNDP's BIOFIN Project, the Biodiversity Finance Plan for Thailand provides guidance on key finance solutions for coastal/marine ecosystems on Koh Tao Island; wildlife and other biodiversity conservation at both national and local levels.

Combatting the illegal wildlife trade needs the streamlined coordination of law enforcement agencies, increased wildlife forensic capacity, and behavioural change. UNDP is working with leading conservation partners and the government to stamp out wildlife crime in Thailand. A series of interventions at strategic locations and scientific research will be carried out in response to Covid-19.

Biodiversity resources planning must be integrated, inclusive and responsive to the needs of different groups, especially women and indigenous people. Partnerships must be bolstered to scale up early successes for transformative change. Investing in biodiversity conservation gives us far more benefits than we may think. Aside from addressing poverty, hunger and inequality, it offers nature-based solutions to climate change and boosts resilience of community to shocks. It is a cost-effective way for states to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and biodiversity-related goals by 2030. If not the silver bullet against Covid-19, it clearly is a prerequisite for a better future.

Renaud Meyer, is Resident Representative, UNDP Thailand; Chularat Niratisayakul, is Executive Director, BEDO.

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