Embracing Biodiversity as the Critical Element of Change in 2020

By Polen Cisneros, Wildlife Crime Program Officer, International Fund for Animal Welfare 

As a conservationist and a millennial, it is easy to say that 2019 was rather a disheartening year for nature.  Not only did the current administration weaken certain protections for animals at the risk of extinction, but the 2019 IPBES Report also painted an ominous picture for our future. The report stated that the health of our ecosystems is rapidly deteriorating and that one million species are at risk of extinction in the near future due to human behavior; and that if we do not drastically change our day-to-day behavior, it will result in serious consequences for human beings as well. In addition, countries remained divided on how to tackle climate change at the UN Climate Change Summit, even though we find ourselves in the middle of a climate crisis. Not to mention that climate change effects will continue to worsen if we do not protect biodiversity, as animals play a key role in maintaining critical ecosystems that mitigate the damaging effects of carbon emissions. Simply put, poor animal welfare and extinction events further exacerbate the effects of climate change and hasten climate change itself. With that said, our biodiversity, our well-being, and our planet—are all under threat and the time to act is now. 

In order to safeguard a healthy planet, society needs to shift from a sole focus on chasing economic growth. It is imperative that as a society, we start valuing our nature, our ecosystems, and our well-being over GDP, which fails to capture the real impact of climate change, environmental devastation, and human well-being. It may be hard to see at first, but nature is – and has always been – the foundation for our development. Our biodiversity was fundamental to our evolution and it remains indispensable for our future. In other words, animals and their habitats are interwoven in the fate of human development – and all species have an important role to play in building a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future. If we change what we value, we can help provide a better quality of life with far less impact at the expense of nature. This is not an inconceivable idea. One country is already taking the lead on this change, with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir recently adopting green and family-friendly priorities rather than solely focusing on economic growth figures.

It is therefore with great hope and enthusiasm that I am looking ahead to the next year. The year 2020, known as a “biodiversity super year,” will host several major global events that will place biodiversity, which includes all wildlife and plant species, at the center-stage of the global agenda. Upcoming events include the Convention on Migratory Species in February; World Wildlife Day in March with the theme of “Sustaining all life on Earth;” the IUCN Conservation Congress in June; the UN High-Level Political Forum in July which will feature a segment on biodiversity; and the Convention on Biological Diversity in October which is due to adopt new biodiversity conservation targets. These events will continue to highlight the importance of our biodiversity and will provide a unique opportunity to deliver transformative progress for the conservation and sustainable use of the species in response to global sustainable development challenges. And the biodiversity of animals will play an enormous role as it is clear that they are critical to human well-being; from ecotourism to anchoring key ecosystem services such as pest control and pollination, animals support our communities, our economies, our environment – and therefore – our very own well-being. 

Needless to say, we urgently need transformative change – not just by individuals but also by everyone  — public and all private sectors; we have no other option. The international community has the time and the tools to protect nature, halt the deterioration of ecosystems, prevent a wildlife extinction crisis, and safeguard our well-being. In 2020, we need to stay motivated and determined; it’s important to add our voice and take action to help conserve wildlife and its ecosystems because without a healthy planet, we have no sustainable future. 

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