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OPINION: Why I have high hopes for nature this Earth Day

by Naoko Ishii | Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Friday, 17 April 2020 13:00 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A school student holds a sign as she takes part in the global students strike for action on climate change in Tokyo, Japan, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

COVID-19 has made the case for taking better care of the home we share

By Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility

Like many others, I began 2020 with high hopes.

This was meant to be a year that would yield desperately-needed accords about biodiversity, oceans, and climate change, propelled by increasing awareness about the value of nature in our modern world.

The coronavirus seems to have changed all of that. Today’s health crisis is rightly front-and-center for government leaders around the world and negotiating summits for new environmental deals have been rescheduled to early 2021.

Still, as most of us prepare to mark Earth Day from quarantine, I am struck by the growing consensus borne of COVID-19 that we need to look after one another and take better care of the one home we all share. The coronavirus crisis has revealed just how vulnerable we are and reminded us that we cannot take our current way of life for granted or continue to defer hard choices about the challenges we face.

This awareness gives me genuine hope that we can end this year on the right path to reset our relationship with nature and, through systems change shifting our way of life, finally tip the scales toward a more sustainable future for our planet.  

At its deep root, COVID-19 is an environmental crisis, stemming from a collision between human and natural systems. We humans have been living far beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. This is how we got to today’s crisis: deforestation, urban sprawl, and wildlife markets bringing humans so close to wildlife have made it easier for pathogens to jump from animals to people, then ricochet around the world through trade and travel.

Over the past several weeks, I have been reading about pandemic warnings from ecologists and epidemiologists alike that went unheeded for years. Those warnings have given me an acute sense of deja-vu, as they echo of the repeated and increasingly urgent messages we have heard from scientists about the state of our planet because of the way we live.

We know from science that current rates of deforestation, land degradation, carbon emissions, air pollution, and ocean acidification are going to make the planet uninhabitable – yet doing something about changing that trajectory has in recent years been an uphill battle fought by too few.

The coronavirus crisis strengthens the case for rethinking how we tackle those global threats.

As the world looks to re-open and rebuild economies and societies in the coming months, we will have an opportunity to transform the way we eat, move, produce, and consume in support of a more sustainable global economy. Doing so would give overdue credence to what scientists have been telling us about human pressures on nature’s systems including the Global Commons – the air, water, and other shared natural resources we all rely on for life.

Using science-informed policy is one very critical step we can take to confront the root causes of environmental pressures, and both address and prevent the risks of another coronavirus outbreak from knocking us down. Moving science to the center of our planning can help us learn from today’s crisis and start to invest in prevention instead of reaction – for our health and for the sake of our planet.

I look forward to working with leaders across government, business, industry, and civil society to ensure that the new international environmental deals that do emerge in 2021 are informed by this moment and steer us in a new direction that is so badly needed.