Investing for the earth, our natural asset
Restoring our ecosystems is an important investment for our planet.
Dr. Theresa Mundita S. Lim
Executive Director, ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity
Today, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) joins the global observance of Earth Day. Across the world, including the ASEAN region, various activities are being done to celebrate the blue and green planet that makes humanity’s survival possible.
This year’s Earth Day theme – Invest in Our Planet – is a timely battlecry, coming right at the heels of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) penultimate report. With the dire warning that we might lose our chance to prevent the Earth’s warming to the 2 degree Celsius threshold level, the new report highlights the central role of the whole-of-community, and why an enhanced synergy between the private and public sectors is needed, moving forward.
The crossroads of climate change and biodiversity loss is of utmost importance, both for people and nature––the fragile biodiversity has become more vulnerable to the unforgiving impacts of the unstable climate. On the other hand, biodiversity also forwards a remedy. The recently concluded COP 26 in Glasgow emphasised that “protecting, conserving, and restoring nature, including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems, acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, and by protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards”, are important measures to achieve the temperature goal in the Paris Agreement.
We cannot stress enough the crucial role of a healthy Earth in the survival of the people living in it. The diversity in and of ecosystems not only holds the capacity to store and sequester carbon, but also provides essential services like food, water, and livelihoods, – thus can hold the answer to building more climate-resilient communities. In addition, healthy ecosystems and thriving biodiversity are natural measures for reducing the risk of future pandemics. COVID19 served as an eye-opener in demonstrating the intricate link between wildlife, the ecosystems they inhabit, and human well-being and survival. Therefore, ensuring the health of people also means investing in nature and a healthy planet.
The Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) defines nature-based solutions or NBS as ‘actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human well-being, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits.’ This definition further validates the contextual understanding in the ASEAN of NBS, as actions that work with and enhance nature to help address societal challenges. The concept is grounded in the knowledge that healthy natural and managed ecosystems produce a diverse range of services on which human well-being depends.
In a region as biodiverse as the ASEAN, maintaining the health and diversity of our ecosystems contribute to an integrated approach to addressing climate change. The variety of ecosystems and the unique species of flora and fauna all interact together to perform various functions that help build our resilience as a region.
Establishing well-managed protected areas is a means to secure the remaining healthy ecosystems that we need for the Earth to sustain our needs. The ASEAN Heritage Parks (AHP) Programme provides support to 50 recognised outstanding protected areas in the region. A vital component of the programme includes assisting the surrounding communities in establishing sustainable livelihoods so that they can be active partners in effectively managing our protected areas.
But more needs to be done. An initial assessment among the AHPs, reveals that Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar have annual funding gaps at an average of USD 1,400,000; 800,000; and 1,250,000 respectively, for the next ten years. While there have been existing sustainable financing mechanisms set by the countries in the region such as Payments for Ecosystem Services, Integrated Protected Area Fund, Green Sukuk, and successful crowdfunding for short-term projects, there is an urgent need to continue mobilising further if we are to turn the climate crisis as well as pressing global challenges around.
The ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, as the regional centre mandated to facilitate collaborations and synergy in the region, continues to work with the ASEAN Member States and partners towards bridging the conservation gap and ultimately advancing bold actions for the planet, with the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework as our guide toward recovery and resilience-building.
To further encourage collective actions and innovative solutions to protect biodiversity, the ASEAN has committed to recognise 10-10-10 initiatives: planting and growing at least 10 million native trees across the 10 ASEAN Member States in a span of 10 years through the ASEAN Green Initiative (AGI). The AGI is the region’s response to the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration that highlights the importance of forest restoration and reforestation initiatives that are ecologically sound, sustainable, and socio-economically relevant.
Contributing to effective protected area management and actions that restore key ecosystems are some of the concrete ways we can invest in our planet. This year’s ASEAN theme, ASEAN ACT: Addressing Challenge Together reminds us that we can still do so much more, especially if we do it collectively. Collaborations and synergies will afford us more efficient actions in mitigating climate change, reversing biodiversity loss, and preventing future pandemics.