Our natural world is in crisis. It is no overstatement to say that human activity and consumption is pushing nature to the brink. We are cutting down forests, overfishing the seas, polluting rivers, and degrading soil. Globally, wildlife populations have declined by 60% on average since 1970, while extinction rates have risen to such an extent that many scientists now believe we have entered a sixth mass extinction.
Tackling this ‘nature crisis’ may seem too many to be a remote, moral duty and not as pressing as other concerns, such as climate change. With many of us increasingly disconnected from nature, it is often perceived as a nice-to-have. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Protecting and caring for nature is not simply a moral responsibility; it is essential to our well-being, and indeed our survival.
Nature provides us with the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. We depend on it to grow our crops, to source our medicines, to house us, and to clothe us. In doing so, it underpins our societies, our economics and our physical wellbeing. For many, it is also the basis for cultural identity and priceless spiritual value.
The loss of nature has direct implications for us all, but particularly for indigenous peoples and local communities that depend heavily on nature. The way of life and the rights of these groups are undermined as a result of nature loss. At the same time, nature loss increases their vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change.
It is also a generational issue. Nature’s decline directly impacts on the security of future generations. The young and future generations, who will have played little to no part in the loss of nature, will bear the full brunt of the actions of past and current generations. Young people are within their right to demand responsible and sustainable natural resource management by their leaders. In essence, the ability of the world to meet the 2030 agenda for sustainable development is severely jeopardised by nature loss.
Action for nature and people
Our nature crisis is an existential crisis, but there is still time to protect what is left and start restoring nature. To do this, we must radically change the way we live, including how we perceive economic growth and development.
At the heart of these efforts must be recognition that the Nature Agenda is also about people, their rights, wellbeing and economic prosperity. Only by appreciating these linkages, and creating a common narrative for nature and people, will we be able to secure a sustainable future for both.
During the United Nations General Assembly week in New York City, the World Economic Forum, WWF, IUCN, Conservation International, Bhumi Project, YMCA, Natural Justice, Africa Platform, and African Wildlife Foundation co-convened an event bringing together leaders across non-environment organisations to discuss the impact of nature on people and potential solutions. WWF, World YMCA, and the Bhumi Project were among 36 organisations – representing conservation, development, humanitarian, faith-based, rights-based, youth and indigenous organisations – which met to discuss the nature and people agenda. This gathering was particularly timely as our leaders are scheduled to make key decisions on nature, climate and development in 2020, and governments are preparing for these decisions at a key Convention on Biological Diversity preparatory meeting in Montreal in November 2019.
Recognising the impact of nature across all sectors, and the need to work together to protect and restore it, is the first step to developing a coalition for the nature and people agenda. We will need to see continued and greater collaboration across development and environmental stakeholders if we are to secure strong decisions for nature and people next year. There’s a lot at stake.