This World Environment Day, Amazonian cities remind us why preserving biodiversity is essential

By Rodrigo de Oliveira Perpetuo, Regional Director ICLEI South America Secretariat
Read the original article in Portuguese.

World Environment Day 2020 will be guided by the theme of biodiversity. Not by chance, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) chose Colombia as the headquarters for World Environment Day activities.

Considered one of the most environmentally diverse countries, Colombia sustains approximately 10 percent of the biodiversity of the entire planet. Of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world – which together account for 70 percent of the planet’s biodiversity – five are in South America. In addition to Colombia, the list includes Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

In Brazil, the variety of life is abundant: more than 20 percent of the total number of species on earth can be found in Brazil. The country has a huge variety of biomes and ecosystems such as forest, cerrado, caatinga, coral reefs, dunes, mangroves, ponds and swamps.

However, today the Amazon is under stress while the entire ecosystem is disturbed by fire, deforestation, heavy mining traffic and illegal land grabbing. These threats to the natural ecosystem can even generate epidemics and pandemics like the new coronavirus. According to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), warnings of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest are up 63.75 percent in April this year compared to the same period last year. The increase occurs after a first quarter that broke the historical deforestation record of the last four years.

Cooperation between Amazonian cities is needed to keep the forest standing

Cooperation between Amazonian countries is an important condition for the conservation of the Amazon as well as sustainable development and the well-being of Amazonian communities. In September 2019, the Amazon Cities Pact was signed in Manaus, as a result of discussion between mayors and representatives of 775 municipalities that make up the Brazilian Legal Amazon, affirming their commitment to sustainable development.

The meeting was promoted by ICLEI South America in partnership with CB27 (The Forum of Secretaries of Environment of the Brazilian Capitals), the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Manaus City Hall. It was a historic moment for Amazonian cities to have their voices echoed in major national and international meetings that discuss the importance of preservation and sustainable investment. The Pact has already received the endorsement of nearly 10,000 municipalities and organizations worldwide.

Biodiversity and Covid-19

The increase in population, combined with the forms of production and consumption consolidated in the past two centuries have been putting unprecedented pressure on the biosphere.

Science clearly points out that disturbances in the ecological world (such as deforestation, intensive agriculture and livestock and the acceleration of climate change) in combination with the loss of biodiversity favors the transmission of pathogens between animals and people. According to the 2016 UNEP Frontiers Report on Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern, about 60 percent of human infectious diseases and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic diseases, that is, transmitted through animals.

In a context in which a million species of animals and plants are facing the threat of extinction, the defense of biodiversity is fundamental for ecosystems to recover. Biodiversity is an important pillar to combat the climate crisis and food insecurity while guaranteeing water supply and preventing pathogens such as the new coronavirus to spread. After all, the more biodiverse an ecosystem is, the harder it is for a pathogen to spread quickly.

The future we want to (re)build

Projections from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) indicate that negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are expected to hamper progress in achieving nine of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by up to 80 percent.

Local governments have been increasingly recognized in international conventions, however, they still face financial, technical and management capacity challenges. For the future that we are (re)building, it is necessary to improve the conditions of local governments in order for them to be able to conserve biodiversity effectively, equitably manage protected areas and take other conservation measures that strengthen capacity and governance at the local level, recognition of the role of governments legal or institutional frameworks, and the dissemination of the benefits of protected areas and other local conservation measures.

The involvement of local governments is the best way for society as a whole to take up the global sustainable development agendas. It is the best way to promote the guiding principles of the SDGs: peace + people + planet + partnerships + prosperity!

Photo credit: Anna del Mar