RECREATE. REIMAGINE. RESTORE!

World Environment Day, 5 June

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By: Irene Sacchetti & Joy El -Hajaly / GICJ    

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On this year, the United Nations celebrates World Environment Day, 5 June 2021, with Pakistan as global host of the day. The theme of this year is “Ecosystems Restoration”. This World Environment Day will kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration (2021-2030), a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea.

Only healthy ecosystems can enhance people’s livelihoods, counteract climate change and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Every year on this day, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) organizes events to lay emphasis on the role of environment’s protection in making possible life on earth and human development.

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Brief History

The World Environment Day was established by the UN General Assembly on 15 December 1972 by adopting Resolution 2294/27. In fact, that year marked a turning point in the development of international environmental policies: from 6 to 15 June 1972 was held the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, the first major conference ever pertaining to international environmental issues promoted by the United Nations. Its aim was to look into challenges of preserving and enhancing the human environment.

The participants adopted a series of principles for sound managment of the environment including the Stockholm Declaration and Action of Plan for the Human Environment. This Declaration placed for the first time in history environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the beginning of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries regarding economic growth, air pollution, water and human well-being.

One of the major result of the Stockholm Declaration has been the creation of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), whose mission is to re-affirm the responsibility of the international community to concretely protect the environment. Nowadays, UNEP has the role to set  global environmental agenda, to promote the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the United Nations system, and serve as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.

 

Objectives behind celebrations

According to United Nations, "The celebration of this day provides us with an opportunity to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises, and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment."

World Environment Day is celebrated to spread awareness among people and communities around the globe about current issues concerning the environment and its protection, encouraging citizens and different stakeholders to become active agents in developing environmental safety measures, strategies and promoting environmental campaigns.

In fact, anthropogenic activities contribute to increase environment pollution, drastic changes in climate, greenhouse effects, global warming, land exploitation, abuse of fossil fuels resulting in detrimental consequences for the enjoyment of life on earth.

Consequently, the protection of environment and ecosystems means protection of life on earth. The interwined nature of environmental protection with life establishes an essential link between the full realization of a range of human rights and environment. As long as environment is not comprehensively safeguarded with proper legislative measures and concrete actions on the ground, the enjoyment of a range of fundamental human rights such as right to life, food, access to water, health, adequate housing are and will be compromised.

The Covid-19 pandemic is, for example, the reliable evidence of our abuse of nature that generates diseases of zoonotic origin, where habitat degradation due to human activities and squalid animal treatment are just ones of the contributing factors.

Thereby, raising awareness and taking action on urgent issues from ocean and land pollution, deforestation, global warming to sustainable consumption, wildlife and ecoystems conservation and restoration should be vital priorities for day-to-day life and policy makers.

 

Ecosystems Restoration

This year’s theme is “Ecosystems Restoration” and it will kick off the UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration (2021-2030).

The theme’s choice shows the necessity to counteract our planet’s ecosystems exploitation and destroyment over the past centuries until present days.  Every three seconds, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch and over the last century we have destroyed half of our wetlands.  As much as 50 per cent of our coral reefs have already been lost and up to 90% of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5°C.

The global emergence of Covid-19 has shown just how disastrous the consequences of ecosystem loss can be. By shrinking the area of natural habitat for animals, we have created ideal conditions for pathogens to spread.

In this challenging scenario, the World Environment Day is focus in the ecosystem restoration and its theme is “Reimagine. Recreate.Restore.”

According to the UN Environment Programme, ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact, preventing and reversing the damage deriving from its exploitation.

Restoration can happen in many ways, from bringing back plants and animals from the brink of extinction to  many small actions everyone can take, every day: growing trees, greening our cities, rewilding our gardens or cleaning up trash alongside rivers and coasts.

However, it is not always possible to return to an ecosystem’s original state, as the causes of degradation are many and varied, and can have an impact at different scales.

All kinds of ecosystems can be restored, including forests, farmlands, cities, wetlands and oceans. Restoration initiatives can be launched by almost anyone, from governments and development agencies to businesses, communities and individuals.

In any case, the restoration of healthy ecosystems is fundamental for enhancing people’s livelihoods, tackle and built resilience against disastrous effects of climate change, and stop the collapse of biodiversity.

Restoring ecosystems carries substantial benefits for people and financial investments are payed back with ecomic benefits exceeding nine times the cost of the investment itself, whereas inaction is at least three times more costly than ecosystem restoration. In fact, restoration not only improves quality of life on earth, preventing the spread of diseases and enriching biodiversity, but it also creates job in rural areas where they are most needed. In fact, some countries have already invested in restoration as part of their strategies to recover after the global pandemic crisis, while others are turning to restoration to help them to adapt to the climatic changes.

 

UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration (2021 – 2030)

The UN Decade on Ecosystems Restoration represents a global mission with the objective to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It wants to be a further attempt to involve the international community in making efforts to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent a mass extinction.

The UN Decade runs from 2021 through 2030, which is also the deadline of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was promoted by the UN General Assembly and proclaimed through resolution 73/284 following a proposal of action by over 70 contries, stressing that ecosystems restoration contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as other United Nations major outcome documents and multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreementand the achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Through this resolution, the General Assembly encourages Member States to foster political will, the mobilization of resources, capacity-building, scientific research and cooperation and momentum for ecosystem restoration at the global, regional, national and local levels, as appropriate. Moreover, it emphasizes the importance of addressing ecosystems restoration into policies while developing and implementing plans to prevent ecosystems degradation.

By doing so, the necessity for facilitating collaboration and synergies becomes an indispensable asset to a a holistic view in order to achieve international commitments for ecosystems restoration, while sharing of experiences and good practices.

 

Environment & Sustainable Development Goals

In the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, Member States officially implemented the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda covers a total of 17 goals. It is extremely important to understand the necessity brought forth by implementing those goals and following through with the roadmap to attain sustainable development by 2030. The year 2030 might seem like a distant year, but we have little time left to do great things. For instance, we must nearly halve greenhouse gas emissions to prevent devastating climate change. The SDGs are widespread and cover a variety of areas, from eliminating poverty to fighting disease to safeguard biodiversity. At the same time, all SDGs are linked. To start with, healthy ecosystems are essential to meet many of the goals, and restoring them is a massive challenge.

 

SDG 15: Health and Terrestial Ecosystems

All SDGs are interconnected, and sustainability means that all areas are covered and restored. The 15th SDG is concerned with protecting, restoring and promoting all land-based ecosystems and biodiversity. Indeed, sustainable and healthy ecosystems are cruicial for human health, be it through safe water supplies, crops, sustainable food systems, or climate change mitigation. Without the achievement of SDG 15, the 3rd SDG cannot be achieved: which is the promotion of healthy lives and well-being for all. That is because healthy ecosystems are able to produce many benefits for all communities, including clean air and water, raw materials and medecines, and even nutritious food. As such, poor people, women, children, and indigenous groups alike are extremely dependent on the services provided by biodiversity and ecosystems, and are consequently harmed by their degradation.  There are also other ways in which SDG 15 affects other goals. To give a few examples, when it comes to ending poverty (SDG 1), it is essential to note that biodiversity provides income and resources, especially for the rural poor. In terms of ending hunger and achieving food security (SDG 2), biodiversity is a key element and a means of improving nutrition; that is because many vulnerable groups depend of food gathered from natural ecosystems such as grasslands, oceans, and forests. Moreover, women play a vital role in agriculture and the well-being of families; recognizing women’s roles as key land and natural resources managers is central to sustainable development (SDG 5).

Unfortunately, the severe loss of global biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems continue to be challenging today. The consequences of such losses result in food insecurity, lack of nutrition, lack of access to clean and healthy water, which clearly affect the health of the rural poor and people worldwide. These complex and systematic challenges which are largely caused by human activities and poor planning must be resolved through innovative changes, such as coalitions and better cooperation between government institutions, civil society, and businesses on national and international levels.

 

The Right to Environment

Human rights and the environment are interrelated because human rights cannot be fully proclaimed nor enjoyed without a clean, safe, and healthy environment. At the same time, sustainable environmenal governance cannot exist without the respect for human rights. Recently, more institutions and governments are recognizing the relationship between human rights and the environment. The number of international and national laws, judicial decisions, and academic degrees on this relationship are increasing. Yet, more work needs to be done to fulfill the human rights obligations relating to a healthier environment. It remains a challenge that the right to environment has not been formally recognized globally, despite the approval of all 150 UN member states. Such a challenge hinders the achievement of many SDGs that have been mentioned before. An international treaty must be created to formally recognize such rights, as solicited by the Special Rapporteur on healthy, clean, and sustainable Environment during the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council.

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“Environmental rights empower individuals, people, and peoples, and help humanity in addressing the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution,” said Arnold Kreilhuber, Acting Director of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP’s) Law Division.

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GICJ Position

Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) calls on all national and international leaders to unite against the effects brought forth by loss of biodiversity and ecosystems and to prioritize environmental issues in their agendas. By recalling the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and pointing out the importance of the SDGs accross the world, GICJ wishes to remind states of their responsibility to protect their people through the protection of their environment first. We also support the efforts made by individuals on a personal level, by reducing their human footprint or by the growing trend of going Zero Waste, more is being done today than it has before. We are facing great challenges, but the hope for mitigation can always be promoted. Climate change, water scarcity, food and resource shortages, pollution, and other environmental issues are complex and cannot be resolved overnight, but many steps are being taken. The EU Green Deal is another example of a growing strategy which extends its actions to 2050; it is essential to make our world climate-neutral and protecting our natural habitat as this will improve our well-being: this means healthier food, better public transport, renovated hospitals and homes, and a better life.

 

We need to take care of what we already have and preserve our future. Small changes start with us, and better policies for a sustainable environment must be prioritized above all.

 

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