How We Can Avoid Another Rerun of 2020
- Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Director General, Emirates Nature-WWF
I’ve always admired the human spirit – our passion for life, our strength in the face of calamity, our perseverance to achieve our goals, and our innate talent to band together and collaborate with peers and strangers alike. A glance back at 2020 demonstrates our willingness and ability to adapt so swiftly to a new set of norms, and our capability to innovate at unprecedented speed. We may find that the COVID-19 crisis, the darkest of times for so many of us, has led to a rekindling of the human spirit, mobilizing us to come together to find and implement solutions to our common challenge.
This spirit of collaboration and invention will serve us well in the weeks, months and years to come. 2021, after all, will be the year to keep our momentum going and to keep striving for a better, more sustainable future for us all.
On the occasion of UAE National Environment Day, this February 4, I urge you to pause and consider the great environmental challenges that face us.
On the one hand, we have a zoonotic pandemic that has been unleashed as a result of our continual encroachment into natural land – which has in turn pushed wildlife, livestock and people treacherously close to one another. On the other hand, we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate and are constantly living in the shadow of the threat of climate change, rising temperatures and unstable weather patterns. If we continue ‘life as usual,’ we are looking at future reruns of 2020, of varying severity.
The solution lies in nature. We need to truly understand that our health is directly linked to the wellbeing of nature. We need to realise that nature is the cornerstone of our global economy – around USD 125 trillion worth of ecosystem services are provided to the global economy each year, through drinking water, food, fresh air as well as heat absorption and the ability of natural habitats to soak up carbon. We also need to remember that nature is a critical ally in the fight against climate change, if only we manage nature better.
By prioritising the restoration of nature, we ensure our long term resilience.
Fortunately, there is a growing sense around the world that we can – and must – heal our broken relationship with nature. People, businesses and governments are excited about the possibility of a green recovery in which policies and economic stimulus programmes prioritise a nature-first approach to help us recover from economic fallout of the pandemic, and also protect us in the long-term by supporting positive action for the climate, biodiversity and natural habitats. It is only apt that the theme and focal point of this year’s National Environment Day is the green recovery.
At Emirates Nature-WWF, our sustainability agenda for 2021 is very clear. We must take transformative action to protect natural ecosystems in order to reduce the risk of future pandemics and build towards nature positive, carbon neutral, sustainable and just societies. We must do this by taking a One-Health approach, appreciating the link between nature, people, rights, wellbeing and economic prosperity. To ensure nature is at heart of decision making, we must support three key actions:
1. Support sustainable food systems that enable us to feed a growing population without relying on agricultural deforestation and land conversion.
2. Stop illegal, unregulated and high-risk wildlife trade and consumption, by reducing consumer demand for wildlife and supporting safety standards.
3. Build a sustainable relationship between people and nature through holistic economic recovery approaches.
A nature-first approach to economic growth promises sustainability, good growth and future prosperity. It offers a strong beacon of hope for governments, businesses and youth. We have seen this first-hand, in conversations at government advisory conferences, corporate events such as Unilever’s recent C-Suite Panel which I had the opportunity to be a part of, and in youth majlis discussions.
Over the course of the past six months, Emirates Nature-WWF spoke to over 1,600 UAE youth through a series of youth circles to understand what changes they want to see post-COVID-19. UAE youth have told us, loud and clear, that they want to actively create positive change and be part of a community that contributes to conservation action and supports environmental initiatives.
It is heartening to see such precious unison in thinking. But we must act now – while such sentiments are high – to harness this spirit and translate it into transformative action at scale to ensure a successful transition towards a green economy.
I invite you to accompany us and act in every way possible to contribute to the change we all wish to see. Every impact makes a difference. Advocate for a nature-first approach in your circles of influence. Prioritise nature in each of your decisions and purchases. Collaborate with your networks to achieve scale in your actions. Invent new, sustainable solutions to yesterday’s problems.
Together, we must ensure that the coming years do not take us back to the state of normalcy that we all crave so deeply, but a new normal that represents the healthy, sustainable lifestyle that we require so urgently.