The rising of the sun, the flowering of the plants, the chirping of the birds, the blowing of the wind, the swinging of the trees, the greenery of vegetation, the flowing of a stream, the brownness of the dry season, the delightful squealing of children and the call of a mother summoning her family to lunch or dinner, all form part of nature that humans have become so familiar with.
The natural world is an incredible wonder that inspires everybody. It underpins our economy, our society, indeed our very existence. Our forests, rivers, oceans and soils provide us with the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water for our crops. We also rely on them for numerous other goods and services that ensures our health, happiness and prosperity.
These natural assets are known as the world’s “natural capital.” Its benefits: from farming, forestry to tourism are very crucial to national economies and has an impressive total value said to be at least $125 trillion annually, according to Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Yet, humans have become so used to the naturalness and freeness of this “natural capital” that we think it will always be that way. So, we take it for granted and overexploit it. We clear forests, overfish oceans, pollute rivers and build over wetlands without taking account of the impact this will have. By not considering the benefits we get from nature, we have and are creating huge social and economic costs for ourselves.
To draw world attention to the need to reverse the trend of destruction of nature and its biological diversity, World Environment Day was instituted and first celebrated in 1974 on the theme: “Only One Earth.” Since that year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has responsibility for organising the Day’s celebration on June 5 every year, comes up with a theme that denotes a pressing issue for the period.
This year’s theme “Time for Nature,” is equally appropriate as its gives credence to recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, USA, and Australia to fall army worms infestations across parts of Africa – and now, a global pandemic COVID 19 – all demonstrating the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which we exist.
Clearly, World Environment Day 2020 is being celebrated in exceptional times, in which nature is sending humans a message: “It’s time to take notice of nature, time to care for nature, so you can take good care of yourselves. It is time to value the essential infrastructure that supports life on earth and human development.”
To commemorate the Day in Ghana, the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, has issued a statement urging Ghanaians to endeavour to restore their relationship with nature, since their existence is dependent on it.
“As a people we are part of the biodiversity. When we destroy it, we destroy ourselves, and when we protect it, we protect ourselves and posterity, he said, reminding Ghanaians that “it behoves on all of us to learn to relate with nature properly, because we are part of it and we need to make this relationship last.”
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng called for the strengthening “of the linkage between nature and our culture by respecting traditional laws and promoting traditional approaches to biodiversity conservation,” adding, “let’s improve governance of natural resources, by enhancing institutional capacity for the enforcement of regulations.”
Meanwhile, WWF says nature’s immense benefits to humanity, are only possible if a rich diversity of wildlife is maintained. A statement on “why it’s important that we value nature” on the organisation’s website, warns that “… we are losing nature faster that it can restore itself. And without urgent action, significant harm to people and planet is inevitable: inadequate food and water for our growing global population, significant harm to our economies, and the mass extinction of an estimated one million species.”
WWF is of the view that even though governments are already pledging action to tackle nature loss through the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is the UN’s global agreement on nature, “the Convention’s targets for 2020, set almost a decade ago, will in all cases not be met.”
This is because “the warning signs continue to mount. Populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined on average by 60 per cent in the past 40 years – and 75 per cent of land has been significantly altered by human activities.”
Underpinning these warnings and the virtual celebration of this year’s World Environment Day, is the call by leading global environment and conservation focused NGOs like WWF, Conservation International (CI) and UNEP on governments around the world “to deliver an ambitious New Deal for Nature and People that reverses nature loss and secures a better future for everyone.”
This pact, scheduled to be agreed to by governments in Beijing later this year, is expected to lay out the global strategy for protecting nature during this new decade, from 2020 to 2030.
This New Deal is an agenda to protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and planet. It proposes no more loss of natural spaces or extinctions as well as reducing by half the negative ecological impacts of production and consumption.
Hopefully, this will enable the world to provide enough food and water for a global population that will grow to nine billion people 30 years from now, support efforts to create a stable climate, and prevent a mass extinction of wildlife.
To attain these goals, WWF proposes that the first step is to work with government leaders to ensure their support for the New Deal. The organisation says “this must be followed by strengthened commitments and delivery mechanisms for the UN Biodiversity Convention alongside a strengthened private-sector commitment to action…” This must be done alongside, redoubling efforts to deliver current UN agreements on tackling climate change and encouraging sustainable development.
For its part, Conservation International is convinced that “if governments take steps to identify and protect the nature that is necessary to achieve these climate and development outcomes, we stand a chance at creating a world where the needs of humans and nature are both addressed.”
To this end, the organisation has made a commitment to contribute its expertise to the process, to ensure the recognition of the value of nature for all aspects of human well-being.
Appreciating and valuing nature is what World Environment Day 2020 is about and this is best summed up in Jim Reeves’ song:
We thank Thee each morning for a newborn day
Where we may work the fields of new mown hay
We thank Thee for the sunshine
And the air that we breathe
Oh Lord we thank Thee
We thank Thee for the rivers that run all day
We thank Thee for the little birds that sing along the way
We thank Thee for the trees
And the deep blue sea
Oh Lord we thank Thee
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang