Life on Land
Nature is critical to our survival: nature provides us with our oxygen, regulates our weather patterns, pollinates our crops, produces our food, feed and fibre. But it is under increasing stress. Human activity has altered almost 75 per cent of the earth’s surface, squeezing wildlife and nature into an ever-smaller corner of the planet.
Around 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction – many within decades – according to the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service. The report called for transformative changes to restore and protect nature. It found that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, affecting the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.
Deforestation and desertification – caused by human activities and climate change – pose major challenges to sustainable development and have affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Forests are vitally important for sustaining life on Earth, and play a major role in the fight against climate change. And investing in land restoration is critical for improving livelihoods, reducing vulnerabilities, and reducing risks for the economy.
The health of our planet also plays an important role in the emergence of zoonotic diseases, i.e. diseases that are transmissible between animals and humans. As we continue to encroach on fragile ecosystems, we bring humans into ever-greater contact with wildlife, enabling pathogens in wildlife to spill over to livestock and humans, increasing the risk of disease emergence and amplification.
The COVID-19 outbreak highlights the need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife.
In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically, it pointed out that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these zoonotic diseases are closely interlinked with the health of ecosystems.
“In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
In Working With the Environment to Protect People, UNEP lays out how to “build back better” – through stronger science, policies that back a healthier planet, and more green investments.
UNEP’s response covers four areas:
- Helping nations manage COVID-19 waste,
- Delivering a transformational change for nature and people,
- Working to ensure economic recovery packages create resilience to future crises, and
- Modernizing global environmental governance.
To prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide, the UN has launched a Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). This globally-coordinated response to the loss and degradation of habitats will focus on building political will and capacity to restore humankind’s relation with nature. It is also a direct response to the call from science, as articulated in the Special Report on Climate Change and Land of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and to the decisions taken by all UN Member States in the Rio Conventions on climate change and biodiversity, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
Work on a new and ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework is also underway.
As the world responds to and recovers from the current pandemic, it will need a robust plan for protecting nature, so that nature can protect humanity.