Playing our part to save the Earth

Hakim Hayat

Every June 5, we celebrate World Environment Day to generate action on pressing environmental issues.

This year, the global observance is guided by the theme ‘Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.’ as the United Nations (UN) Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is formally launched – a broad global movement that resounds a call to halt the worsening environmental degradation and protect the world’s ecosystems.

ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity’s (ACB) Executive Director Dr Theresa Mundita cited a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report stating that our current lifestyle uses up natural resources equal to that of 1.6 Earths.

“Humanity is consuming more than what the planet can provide. This contributes to the alarmingly fast rate by which we lose biodiversity compared with our efforts to restore nature,” she said.

“The economic benefits of restoring forests, farmlands, mountains, freshwaters, and peatlands, and even urban ecosystems to their healthy and stable state far outweigh the costs: restoring 350 million hectares of degraded terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems can generate as much as USD 9 trillion, according to the report.”

While this urgent task seems daunting, she said that there is much that we can do on our own and collectively. “This “whole-of-society” approach, where all sectors across countries work together, is needed to embed biodiversity in policy-making, development processes, and in our own lifestyle and ways of life.”

She also highlighted that key stakeholders – from national and local governments, to business, infrastructure, agriculture, education, health, and private sectors, as well as important segments of society such as women, youth, and the indigenous communities – have important roles to play. “By implementing various nature-based solutions, the restoration movement, or the #GenerationRestoration, seeks to help alleviate poverty, combat climate change, and prevent the mass extinction of species.”

Reforestation and greening initiatives involve regrowing huge tracts of denuded forests, including re-planting of mangrove forests and re-seeding of coral reefs and kelp beds in the marine ecosystems.

She highlighted that regional programmes, such as the ASEAN Green Initiative that aims to plant 10 million trees in 10 years across the region in support of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, take into account tree species that are locally adapted to the ecosystem. Citizens join tree-planting activities in their respective local communities, who are often more knowledgeable of endemic and native trees in the area.

Coastal clean-ups also serve as an opportunity to learn more about marine and wetland conservation, she said. “The environmental impact of marine pollution costs the ASEAN region USD1.3 billion annually in the tourism, fishing and shipping industries, according to UNEP’s 2019 report on policies and standards on packaging waste in the region.”

Dr Theresa stressed that helping keep the precious ecosystems intact need not be grand. “Shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle, such as supporting eco-friendly products and businesses, will have significant impacts on our homes and communities.”

Good examples include supporting sustainable agriculture and buying seasonally available food products from local farmers and markets help shorten the supply chain. There are also wider options for plant-based diets and wild foods, which contribute to agricultural diversity and use less synthetic chemical inputs, she said.

She also said that patronising local nature tourism sites and learning from natural and cultural heritage offer new insights on how we are intrinsically connected to our ecosystems. “As travel restrictions are gradually lifted, being mindful and responsible tourists help enrich and respect these local cultures and keep these amazing natural parks pristine and intact.”

The public can also do more. Strengthening public participation in ecosystem restoration starts from raising awareness. Joining or organising various events, online and offline, can help deepen understanding about biodiversity, as well as provide exposure to culture-responsive and nature-positive practices, she said.

The Brunei Darussalam National Council on Climate Change (BNCCC) earlier this year launched the Green Protocol, as part of Climate Action Year, which is one of the initiatives spearheaded by the government in promoting a sustainable lifestyle in efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the country, in line with the Brunei Darussalam National Climate Change Policy (BNCCP) of paving the way for the country to become a sustainable nation.

It outlines a set of guidelines that can contribute significantly to the reduction of carbon footprint, through the adoption of efficient technologies and conservation measures in a number of areas – energy; water; paper and plastic usage; waste disposal management; official events management; and tree planting.

The launch of the protocol serves to further strengthen existing initiatives and to enhance awareness within the government sector.

Most measures introduced under the protocol have already been initiated in most government buildings.

In line with encouraging broader participation in biodiversity concerns, the ACB’s recently-launched #WeAreASEANBiodiversity campaign provides a platform for narratives about efforts, commitments, activities, and other actions – simple or grand – to inspire more people to be part of the movement to restore our ecosystems.

The planet, including humanity, is at stake if we do not act fast. More than 20 per cent of the world’s known plants and animals call the ASEAN region their home, and millions of people are dependent on ecosystems for survival, making it imperative for all of us to take part in this crucial movement.

The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity joins the #GenerationRestoration in strengthening conservation and restoration efforts, bolstered by the ASEAN Leaders’ support and recognition of biodiversity’s central role in keeping our region, and our planet safe and resilient.