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The importance of sustainable use of wildlife in “biodiversity super year”

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Joining the global celebration of the United Nations World Wildlife Day, representatives of UN Member States, UN System organizations, international and non-governmental organizations, rural communities and youth gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York and Geneva to mark the day at two high-level events.

World Wildlife Day is celebrated this year under the theme “Sustaining all Life on Earth”, highlighting the unique place of wild fauna and flora as essential components of the world’s biodiversity, as well as a key pillar of livelihoods for people, particularly among communities that live close to nature. The events also came as part of what has been dubbed the ‘biodiversity super year’.

Our planet is currently facing the urgent challenge that is the loss of biodiversity: research by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says up to a million species could disappear in the coming decades if unsustainable human activity, climate change and habitat degradation are left unchecked. Raising awareness of this alarming trend and driving discussions towards solutions to bend the curve of biodiversity loss through conservation and sustainable use were the goals of this year’s World Wildlife Day celebrations.

In his message for this World Wildlife Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “On this World Wildlife Day, let us remind ourselves of our duty to preserve and sustainably use the vast variety of life on the planet. Let us push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature. A world of thriving biodiversity provides the foundation we need to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals of a world of dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.”

The Ambassador of India to the United Nations in New York,  the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations,  the CITES Secretary-General, the President of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and a representative of rural communities in Colombia provided opening remarks at the event at the UN Headquarters in New York, stressing the significance of the day and of this year’s theme.

A panel of expert speakers that included Permanent Representatives of the UN missions of Costa Rica and Germany, as well as representatives of UNEP, IUCN’s Sustainable use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), a youth activist, engaged in discussions on the challenges that lay ahead in finding the right balance between use of wildlife and the need to conserve biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems.

For the fifth year running, one of the World Wildlife Day activities was co-organized with Jackson Wild™ and featured a film showcase based on the year’s theme. Attracting nearly 350 entries, the competition saw a wide array of filmmakers with a passion for wildlife bring to the screen some gripping stories centred on biodiversity and the interaction between people and wildlife. Once again, these films will provide a strong tool to mobilize and inspire the public for the cause of conservation and to raise awareness of the threats weighing on our world’s wild fauna and flora.

Another artistic highlight was the second international World Wildlife Day youth art contest organised with the support of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and which called on school age and youth artists to illustrate the day’s theme through their art.

Winners of both contests were announced during the high-level event at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The event in New York City was also graced by a moving musical interlude, courtesy of the UN Chamber Music Society, with a wildlife-themed performance.

Earlier that day, representatives of Colombia and Costa Rica spoke at the World Wildlife Day celebrations at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. They joined biodiversity experts from IUCN and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, and a representative of the private sector from Swiss luxury group Richemont for an event co-organized by the CITES Secretariat and the Geneva Environment Network.

Beyond these two official events, States, organizations and civil society groups celebrated the day through their own events around the world. Photographic competitions in Accra, Ghana; a symposium in Bhopal, India; a forum on crocodile conservation in the Philippines; reforestation days in Nicaragua; giant billboards promoting World Wildlife Day across the United States on billboards; and the lighting of the Empire State Building in New York, all together honoured the day.  All in all, people around the world passionate about wildlife and biodiversity joined in on the World Wildlife Day celebrations and took the time to show their appreciation for the value of wild fauna and flora for people, planet and prosperity.

Remarks by organizers:

Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General:

“As we face a biodiversity crisis of such staggering magnitude, we know that, now more than ever, it is imperative that we remind everyone of the immense value of wild fauna and flora for the planet. Human societies and economies rely on biodiversity in fundamental ways. 2020 is the year to reset humanity’s relationship with nature and to start the transformative changes for both people and our planet. We believe this year’s World Wildlife Day will contribute to raising worldwide awareness of just how essential wildlife is for, as well as their livelihoods.”

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Acting Executive Secretary of CBD:

“We can still reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. This year, the world will come together to act for wildlife and bend the curve on biodiversity loss, as Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are expected to adopt an ambitious and transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China. As governments negotiate the post-2020 framework, increasing the sustainability of wildlife use and management is a priority. In doing so, we must take on the challenge of ending unsustainable exploitation of resources, including wildlife and their ecosystems, while preserving the livelihoods of the communities that depend on them.”

Susan Gardner, Director for Ecosystems for UNEP:

“The evidence is clear – human activity is by far the greatest cause of habitat loss and results in loss of wildlife that require those habitats,” said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division. “Sustainable conservation must be based on an appreciation of the interdependency of people and wildlife in order to reimagine a future where the livelihoods of farmers are secured while simultaneously reducing the risks to wild animals that share the land.”

Midori Paxton, Head of Biodiversity for UNDP:

“Wildlife and biodiversity underpin the well-being, safety, and resilience of all societies. One million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. Billions of families and communities who depend on wildlife and nature for food, water, and their livelihoods are also at risk, as are our economies. If we’re to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must reverse this trend now and put nature at the heart of development. Through World Wildlife Day we are helping raise awareness of the importance of investing in nature and scaling up solutions through a coaltion of  public, private sector, and civil society partners.”

Lisa Samford, Executive Director of Jackson Wild™:

“It is no longer sufficient to simply raise public awareness about biodiversity loss, media must ignite tangible action to protect and restore our planet and its diverse wildlife. We’re extremely proud of the World Wildlife Day Film Showcase winners because these films go beyond amplifying reasons to care and inspiring awe for our fragile, but resilient planet. They empower the radical changes that will be required to save humanity from ourselves.”

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Environment

Deadly flooding, heatwaves in Europe, highlight urgency of climate action

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Floods have affected cities across Europe, including Zurich in Switzerland. Unsplash/Claudio Schwarz

Heavy rainfall that has triggered deadly and catastrophic flooding in several western European countries, is just the latest indicator that all nations need to do more to hold back climate change-induced disasters, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Friday.

The agency said that countries including Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands had received up to two months’ rain in two days from 14 to 15 July, on ground that was “already near saturation”.

Photos taken at the scene of some of the worst water surges and landslides show huge, gaping holes where earth and buildings had stood until mid-week, after media reports pointed to well over 100 confirmed fatalities in Germany and Belgium on Friday morning, with an unknown number still missing across vast areas.

“We’ve seen images of houses being…swept away, it’s really, really devastating”, said WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis adding that that the disaster had overwhelmed some of the prevention measures put in place by the affected developed countries.

In a statement issued by his Spokesperson, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said he was saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property. “He extends his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims and to the Governments and people of the affected countries.”

The UN chief said the UN stood ready to contribute to ongoing rescue and assistance efforts, if necessary.

“Europe on the whole is prepared, but you know, when you get extreme events, such as what we’ve seen – two months’ worth of rainfall in two days – it’s very, very difficult to cope,” added Ms. Nullis, before describing scenes of “utter devastation” in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state, which is bordered by France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Highlighting typical preparedness measures, the WMO official noted In Switzerland’s national meteorological service, MeteoSwiss, had a smartphone application which regularly issued alerts about critical high-water levels.

The highest flood warning is in place at popular tourist and camping locations including lakes Biel, Thun and the Vierwaldstattersee, with alerts also in place for Lake Brienz, the Rhine near Basel, and Lake Zurich.

Dry and hot up north

In contrast to the wet conditions, parts of Scandinavia continue to endure scorching temperatures, while smoke plumes from Siberia have affected air quality across the international dateline in Alaska. Unprecedented heat in western north America has also triggered devastating wildfires in recent weeks.

Among the Scandinavian countries enduring a lasting heatwave, the southern Finnish town of Kouvola Anjala, has seen 27 consecutive days with temperatures above 25C. “This is Finland, you know, it’s not Spain, it’s not north Africa,”, Ms. Nullis emphasised to journalists in Geneva.

“Certainly, when you see the images we’ve seen in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands this week it’s shocking, but under climate change scenarios, we are going to see more extreme events in particular extreme heat,” the WMO official added.

Troubled waters

Concerns persist about rising sea temperatures in high northern latitudes, too, Ms. Nullis said, describing the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea at a “record” high, “up to 26.6C on 14 July”, making it the warmest recorded water temperature since records began some 20 years ago.

Echoing a call by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to all countries to do more to avoid a climate catastrophe linked to rising emissions and temperatures, Ms. Nullis urged action, ahead of this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, in November.

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South Africa Invests in Biodiversity to Promote Rural Development and Conservation

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South Africa is stepping up investment for its wildlife and biodiversity sectors thanks to a grant of $8.9 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The Catalyzing Financing and Capacity for the Biodiversity Economy Around Protected Areas Project aims to enhance South Africa’s stewardship of its rich biodiversity and expand the benefits of protected areas for local communities. It will also help address high unemployment and limited livelihoods options in and around protected areas as well as inequality in rural economies.

The project supports South Africa’s efforts to foster the unrealized potential of its wildlife and biodiversity sectors as drivers for economic growth, including through expanding conservation areas and mitigating threats to protected areas and conservation objectives.

It puts into action South Africa’s biodiversity economy node concept, which identifies certain areas within the country as containing both high-value biodiversity and opportunities for economic development. The project will target activities in three biodiversity economy nodes: (i) the Greater Addo to Amathole node in the Eastern Cape Province, (ii) the Greater Kruger-Limpopo node in Limpopo Province, and (iii) the Greater-iSimangaliso node in KwaZulu-Natal Province.

“The biodiversity economy is central to South Africa’s tourism industry and building the resilience of communities to climate change. Empowering communities to invest in the biodiversity economy will create jobs, promote biodiversity stewardship and stimulate rural development in a climate-smart way,” said Marie Françoise Marie Nelly, World Bank Country Director for South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia.

Project activities include providing training, mentorship, and capital to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs); expanding the area of land under protected status through South Africa’s land stewardship  program; and facilitating knowledge exchange to support expansion of the biodiversity economy across the country based on lessons learned from the three nodes.

The project is aligned with South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 and its National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2015-2025, both of which identify the wildlife economy as an important sector for job creation and economic growth. It also supports South Africa’s climate change objectives and Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement. The project’s focus on inclusive job creation and economic growth through the development of MSMEs, integrated value chains, and entrepreneurship is also fully aligned with a draft World Bank Group Country Partnership Framework for South Africa.

About the Global Environment Facility

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established 30 years ago on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit to tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems. Since then, it has provided more than $21.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $117 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 projects and programs. The GEF is the largest multilateral trust fund focused on enabling developing countries to invest in nature and supports the implementation of major international environmental conventions including on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals, and desertification. It brings together 184 member governments in addition to civil society, international organization, and private sector partners. Through its Small Grants Programme, the GEF has provided support to more than 25,000 civil society and community initiatives in 135 countries.

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Time running out for countries on climate crisis front line

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The world’s running out of time to limit global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius, a matter of life or death for climate vulnerable countries on the front line of the crisis, the UN Secretary General reiterated on Thursday.

Speaking to the first Climate Vulnerable Finance Summit of 48 nations systemically exposed to climate related disasters, António Guterres said they needed reassurance that financial and technical support will be forthcoming.

 “To rebuild trust, developed countries must clarify now, how they will effectively deliver $100 billion dollars in climate finance annually to the developing world, as was promised over a decade ago”, he said.

The UN chief said that to get the “world back on its feet”, restore cooperation between governments and recover from the pandemic in a climate resilient way, the most vulnerable countries had to be properly supported.

Risk of calamity

Mr. Guterres asked for a clear plan to reach established climate finance goals by 2025, something he promised to emphasize to the G20 finance ministers at their upcoming meeting this week.

He added that the development finance institutions play a big role supporting countries in the short-term, and they will either facilitate low carbon, climate-resilient recovery, or it will entrench them in high carbon, business-as-usual, fossil fuel-intensive investments. “We cannot let this happen”, he said.

The Secretary-General reminded that the climate impacts we are seeing today – currently at 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels – give the world a glimpse of what lies ahead: prolonged droughts, extreme and intensified weather events and ‘horrific flooding’.

“Science has long warned that we need to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Beyond that, we risk calamity… Limiting global temperature rise is a matter of survival for climate vulnerable countries”, he emphasized.

More adaptation

The UN chief highlighted that only 21% of the climate finance goes towards adaptation and resilience, and there should be a balanced allocation for both adaptation and mitigation.

Current adaptation costs for developing countries are $70 billion dollars a year, and this could rise to as much as $300 billion dollars a year by 2030, he warned.

“I am calling for 50 percent of climate finance globally from developed countries and multilateral development banks to be allocated to adaptation and resilience in developing countries. And we must make access to climate finance easier and faster”.

Invest to save thousands of lives: WMO report

The UN chief also welcomed on Thursday a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which reveals that an estimated 23,000 lives per year could be saved – with potential benefits of at least $162 billion per year – through improving weather forecasts, early warning systems, and climate information, known as hydromet.

In a video message to mark the publication of the first Hydromet Gap Report,, the Secretary-General said that these services were essential for building resilience in the face of climate change.

Mr. Guterres called once more for a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience in 2021, with significant increases in the volume and predictability of adaptation finance.

He noted that Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries where large gaps remain in basic weather data, would benefit the most.

“These affect the quality of forecasts everywhere, particularly in the critical weeks and days when anticipatory actions are most needed”, he said.

According to WMO, investments in multi-hazard early warning systems create benefits worth at least ten times their costs and are vital to building resilience to extreme weather.

Currently, only 40 percent of countries have effective warning systems in place. 

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