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Birds connect our world

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The coronavirus pandemic is reminding us that we live in a connected world. It’s an opportunity to revisit our relationship with nature and rebuild a more environmentally responsible world.

In 2020, the theme of World Migratory Bird Day on 9 May is “Birds Connect Our World.” It highlights the importance of conserving and restoring the ecosystems that support the natural cycles essential for the survival and well-being of migratory birds.

Migratory birds are part of our shared natural heritage and they depend on a network of sites along their migration routes for breeding, feeding, resting and overwintering.

“Many bird species are in decline around the world, and a major cause is the loss and destruction of their natural habitats,” says Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

World Migratory Bird Day is organized by the Convention on Migratory Species and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement in collaboration with the Colorado-based non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas.

Launched in Kenya in 2006, the UN-backed campaign has grown in popularity over the years and countries recently agreed that World Migratory Bird Day is to be celebrated globally on two peak days—the second Saturdays in May and October—as a nod to the cyclical nature of migration.

As part of its broader environmental agenda, UNEP will mark World Environment Day on 5 June this year, celebrating biodiversity. The occasion’s theme – It’s Time for Nature – highlights how nature delivers vital services to humanity and the urgent need to halt its destruction. 

Due to the current global health crisis, the event has gone digital and will provide online segments that will include high level dialogues, performances, interviews and a host of other web events to allow people to celebrate and take action for nature.

“As we plan our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we have a profound opportunity to steer our world on a more sustainable and inclusive path—a path that tackles climate change, protects the environment, reverses biodiversity loss and ensures the long-term health and security of humankind,” says United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

There is also an ethical concern to address biodiversity loss: we have a responsibility to pass on to future generations a planet as rich in natural wonders as the one we inherited. 

Sustainable Development Goals 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) are the principal biodiversity-related goals, but all the goals depend on healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. As we enter the Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals, the challenge is immense. UNEP is contributing to the Decade and progress is being made in many areas. However, action is not yet at the speed or scale required.

Nature is in crisis, threatened by biodiversity and habitat loss, global heating and toxic pollution. Failure to act is failing humanity. Addressing the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and protecting ourselves against future global threats requires sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to “building back better”, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies. Humanity depends on action now for a resilient and sustainable future.

UN Environment

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Local treasures: Nepal’s mountain crops drive biodiversity and economic growth

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Jungu village, Dolakha District. Photo by D. Gauchan, Bioversity International

Remote mountainous regions of Nepal are harsh places in which to survive and make a living.

Economic, social and environmental challenges include lack of market access, outmigration, dependency on imports and subsidies, women’s drudgery, malnutrition, unpredictable weather, pests and diseases.

To tackle some of these challenges, UNEP and partners are working with the local community to conserve biodiversity of crops, to boost food security and resilience.

The 2014-2020 Global Environment Facility-supported project was implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by Bioversity International in collaboration with national  partners—the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, the Department of Agriculture, and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development.

It covers eight sites, at altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 metres above sea level, in the districts of Humla, Jumla, Lamjung and Dolakha, in Western, Central and Eastern Nepal. High‑elevation agricultural systems often have high levels of environmental instability. Eight mountain crops – buckwheat, common bean, finger millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, grain amaranth, naked barley and cold tolerant high-altitude rice – are targeted.

The project faced two major hurdles in five years: devastating earthquakes in March and April 2015, which badly affected two of the four sites, as well as a major administrative reform which saw the introduction of a new federal system in 2017.

Despite the disruptions, government officials believe the project has made a difference. “The project has developed the foundation for promoting and mainstreaming traditional crops,” says Deepak Bhandari, Executive Director of the Nepal Agricultural Research Council. He also hailed the launching of the national project website.

“The project made us aware of the value of local crops,” says Depsara Upadhaya, a farmer from Chhipra village in the northwest of Nepal. “We received support to establish a community seedbank in the village, and electric machines were made available to process finger and proso millet. This brought great relief to women in my village by reducing the physical strain of manual threshing.”

Under the project, four community seed banks were established to conserve rare, local mountain crops. The banks now conserve 232 unique and endangered varieties of 56 crops. UNEP and partners also encouraged best practices for mainstreaming agrobiodiversity in agriculture through community biodiversity management funds, farmers’ field schools and seed exchanges.

Making a difference

“Crop biodiversity contributes to nature, which is an essential source of many drugs used in modern medicine. Globally, nearly half of the human population depends on natural resources for its livelihood,” says UNEP biodiversity expert Marieta Sakalian.

Since its inception in 2014, the project has been boosting mountain crop biodiversity for the benefit of local communities and farmers. Results include:

  • 20,000 households received seeds, germplasm and information on how to conserve and grow mountain crops.
  • 300 germplasms of eight target crops were sent to project sites for on-farm testing. Over 60 were selected for use by farmers.
  • 500 local crop genes have been stored in the national gene bank for future breeding.
  • In 2019, low-interest, collateral-free loans were given to 58 farmers – mostly women – by a community biodiversity trust fund.
  • Electric threshers for millet reduced women’s’ physical labor and improve efficiency. Finger millet threshers were distributed to over 500 households. Eight improved pieces of processing equipment were given to communities.
  • Capacity building of over 100 local farmers, many of them women
  • Over 70 publications—books, flyers, posters, blogs and brochures—were produced.

UN Environment

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How to preserve biodiversity: EU policy

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In order to preserve endangered species, the EU wants to improve and preserve biodiversity on the continent.

In January, Parliament called for an ambitious EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and set legally binding targets, including conservation of at least 30% of natural areas and 10% of the long-term budget devoted to biodiversity

In response, and as part of the Green Deal, the European Commission presented the new 2030 strategy in May 2020.

MEP chair Pascal Canfin, chair of Parliament’s environment committee, welcomed the commitment to cut pesticide use with 50% and for 25% of farm products to be organic by 2030 as well as the 30% conservation target, but said the strategies must be transformed into EU law and implemented.

What has been done to safeguard biodiversity and endangered species in Europe?

EU efforts to improve biodiversity are ongoing under the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, which was introduced in 2010.

The EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy

  • The Birds Directive aims to protect all 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU
  • The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species, including some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types
  • Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world, with core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and rare natural habitat types
  • The EU Pollinator’s Initiative aims to address the decline of pollinators in the EU and contribute to global conservation efforts, focusing on improving knowledge of the decline, tackling the causes and raising awareness

Additionally, the European Life programme brought for example the Iberian Lynx and the Bulgarian lesser kestrel back from near extinction.

The final assessment of the 2020 strategy has yet to be concluded, but according to the midterm assessment, approved by Parliament, the targets to protect species and habitats, maintain and restore ecosystems and make seas healthier were making progress, but had to speed up.

The objective to combat the invasion of alien species was well on track. In strong contrast, the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintain and enhance biodiversity had made little progress.

The Natura 2000 network of protected nature areas in Europe has increased significantly over the past decade and now covers more than 18% of the EU land area.

Between 2008 and 2018, the marine Natura 2000 network grew more than fourfold to cover 360,000 km2. Many bird species have recorded increases in population and the status of many other species and habitats has significantly improved.

Despite its successes, the scale of these initiatives is insufficient to offset the negative trend. The main drivers of biodiversity loss – loss and degradation of habitat, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species – persist and many are on the increase, requiring a much greater effort.

The EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy

An important part of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal commitments, the Commission launched the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, to go hand in hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy.

For the next 10 years, the EU will focus on an EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea, concrete commitments to restore degraded systems, enable change by making the measures workable and binding and take the lead in tackling biodiversity on a global level.

The new strategy outlining the EU ambition for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was due to be adopted at the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2020 in China, which has been postponed.

Once adopted, the Commission plans to make concrete proposals by 2021.

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As the world’s forests continue to shrink, urgent action is needed to safeguard their biodiversity

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Urgent action is needed to safeguard the biodiversity of the world’s forests amid alarming rates of deforestation and degradation, according to the latest edition of The State of the World’s Forests released today.

Published on the International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May), the report shows that the conservation of the world’s biodiversity is utterly dependent on the way in which we interact with and use the world’s forests.

The report was produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership, for the first time, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and technical input from the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

It highlights that some 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses since 1990, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown into sharp focus the importance of conserving and sustainably using nature, recognizing that people’s health is linked to ecosystem health.

Protecting forests is key to this, as they harbour most of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. This report shows that forests contain 60,000 different tree species, 80 percent of amphibian species, 75 percent of bird species, and 68 percent of the Earth’s mammal species.

FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020, noted in the report, found that despite a slowing of the rate of deforestation in the last decade, some 10 million hectares are still being lost each year through conversion to agriculture and other land uses.

“Deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, which contributes significantly to the ongoing loss of biodiversity,” FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, and the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, said in the foreword.

The report presents a comprehensive overview of forest biodiversity, including world maps revealing where forests still hold rich communities of fauna and flora, such as the northern Andes and parts of the Congo Basin, and where they have been lost.

Conservation and sustainable use:

In this report, a special study from the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the US Forest Service found 34.8 million patches of forests in the world, ranging in size from 1 hectare to 680 million hectares. Greater restoration efforts to reconnect forest fragments are urgently needed.

As FAO and UNEP prepare to lead the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 and as countries consider a Global Biodiversity Framework for the future, Qu and Andersen both expressed their commitment for increased global cooperation to restore degraded and damaged ecosystems, combat climate change and safeguard biodiversity.

“To turn the tide on deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, we need transformational change in the way in which we produce and consume food,” said QU and Andersen. “We also need to conserve and manage forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach and we need to repair the damage done through forest restoration efforts.”

The report notes that the Aichi Biodiversity Target to protect at least 17 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial areas by 2020 has been achieved for forests, although progress is still required to ensure the representativeness and effectiveness of such protection. 

A study conducted by UNEP-WCMC for this report shows that the largest increase in protected forest areas occurred in broadleaved evergreen forests – such as those typically found in the tropics. Furthermore, over 30 percent of all tropical rainforests, subtropical dry forests and temperate oceanic forests are now located within protected areas.

Jobs and livelihoods:

Millions of people around the world depend on forests for their food security and livelihoods.

Forests provide more than 86 million green jobs. Of those living in extreme poverty, over 90 percent are dependent on forests for wild food, firewood or part of their livelihoods. This number includes eight million extremely poor, forest-dependent people in Latin America alone.

UN Environment

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