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WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

Reset our interaction with nature

Human activities are increasingly destroying biodiversity and driving species to extinction.

In Summary
  • Our well-being is closely linked to the health of the environment, the health of our natural world.
  • In the words of the late Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, nature is very generous but unforgiving.
Flamingoes fly over Lake Naivasha.
Flamingoes fly over Lake Naivasha.
Image: FILE

Every year, the world comes together to mark World Environment Day on June 5, highlighting critical environment issues affecting our planet. This year’s celebrations come at a time the world finds itself at a crossroads as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc globally.

The pandemic suspected to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, exemplifies how much our interaction with biodiversity can disrupt our lives.

Human activities are increasingly destroying biodiversity and driving species to extinction. A recent UN report indicates that we are in danger of losing one million species. Disruption of livelihoods, health risks, pollution and climate change are some of the negative consequences spanning from this interaction over the years.

Never has the need to recalibrate this interaction been urgent as it is now. As recent happenings around the world have showed, our well-being is closely linked to the health of the environment, the health of our natural world.

Globally, we have a myriad of multilateral agreements focusing on environment protection including the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change under which the Paris Climate Agreement falls.

At a continental level, African countries are party to a number of agreements including the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The African Union Agenda 2063 highlights protection of the environment as one of its priorities, while the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment established in 1985 provides a platform for African environment ministers to advance advocacy for environmental protection on the continent.

While these agreements are in place, commitment to following up these agreements and conventions is key. Environmental matters transcends all spheres of life, and as such, a participatory approach is needed to safeguard nature.

From civil societies, faith-based organisations, corporates to publics everyone has a role to play in this. One of the unique ways of ensuring this success is through a bottom top approach, engaging local communities in developing and implementing solutions to address challenges facing biodiversity protection.

Over the years, BirdLife International has worked with local communities in Africa to advance conservation efforts in a tried and tested “local to global” approach in environmental protection. BirdLife is calling for a recalibration of our interaction with nature, a complete shift in our modus operandi. How we treat nature today is the yardstick by which future generations will judge us.

Consequently, there is need for a healthy environment in line with this. BirdLife launched the 1Planet1Right campaign on Earth Day 2020, petitioning the UN Secretary General to declare a healthy natural environment a fundamental human right.

This would potentially add a new article, Article 31, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a universal right to a healthy natural environment. The petition calls for the inclusion of this new right in the UN General Assembly Biodiversity Summit in September 2020, with the ultimate goal of approval in December 2023.

Enshrining a right that will ensure a healthy planet for all calls for support from all quarters including civil society, governments and publics to join in this call. Perhaps, this is the recalibration needed to reset our relationship with nature.

In the words of the late Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, nature is very generous but unforgiving. On this World Environment Day, we are obliged to reset this relationship to enjoy its generosity and not incur its wrath.

Communications manager, BirdLife International Africa