Happy Biodiversity Day!
That’s right, it’s that time of year again when we remind ourselves about the importance of conserving our biodiversity on this great planet. This year the focus is on water and the vital role it plays in biodiversity. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in an address yesterday “Biodiversity and the ecosystem services it provides are central to achieving the vision of a water secure world. […] Where once the focus was on trade-offs between water use and biodiversity, today we are coming to understand how biodiversity and water security are mutually reinforcing.”
As I am sure most of you are asking yourselves what is biodiversity and why is it so important to us as individuals and as a planet? The basic answer is that biodiversity is the variety of life and the patterns they form. Areas like the rainforest or coral reefs have high biodiversity because there are so many different species all living in the same place, and these animals are different than those who live in the desert or the arctic. Each species plays a vital role in the life of all the other species they interact with. The age-old term, and famous song, that relates to biodiversity is the Circle of Life; what effects one organism will have a ripple effect on the others and thus will impact biodiversity.
Another way of looking at the term biodiversity it is the fruit of billions of years of evolution shaped by natural process and influenced by humans.
What really is the value of having such a large amount of biodiversity in the world? Well, our own self-interest is to protect and conserve resources since we need it to survive. These biological resources are the pillars of which civilizations are formed. Its loss would threaten our food supply and industries such as agriculture and the cosmetic industry. Some facts about biodiversity and the effects it has on people:
· 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and depend directly on strong biodiversity for their survival and wellbeing
· The average abundance of species is declining — there has been a reported 40% loss between 1970 and 2000.
· Unsustainable consumption continues as demand for resources worldwide exceeds the biological capacity of the Earth by about 20%.
This year’s theme for Biodiversity Day is Water, which correlates with 2013 being the Year of Water Cooperation. After all nearly 2/3 of the planet is covered in water. That being said, there is only three percent that is freshwater and only one percent of that is in liquid form suitable for drinking. Water is becoming scarcer as demands outstrips supply, and most of what little water is left fails to meet the minimum requirements for quality. In Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address for today, he noted that “we live in an increasingly water insecure world where demand often outstrips supply and where water quality often fails to meet minimum standards. Under current trends, future demands for water will not be met.”
At the World Economic Forum 2013, Global Risk reported that water supply is second only to major financial failure. Water is so important that without it food production is unimaginable. Accounting for approximately 70% of global water usage, agriculture remains the greatest single demand on water and the biggest polluter of watercourses. Water demands for agriculture and the impacts agriculture can have on water quality are key management issues in maintaining both food and water security.
With such an important resource being threatened, the question is – what are people doing to combat the threat? One convention that has been formed to deal with this issue was the Convention on Biological Diversity, a legally binding treaty with three goals, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. The 193 members feel that the ecosystem, species and genetic resources should be used for the benefit of humans, but in a way that does not lead to a decline in biodiversity.
Ways we can help preserve this vital resource can be very simple – as simple as just making sure we’re not dumping anything harmful into large water bodies, or cutting back on consumption in order to conserve water locally. The key water management philosophy should be: reduce, recycle and treat before disposal.
Examples of significant opportunities to use ecosystems to manage water include:
- improving the health of soils and land cover in farming landscapes to simultaneously achieve water security for food security and reduce off-farm impacts, including reducing water use, pollution, erosion and landslides;
- integrating natural infrastructure approaches into urban water management to achieve sustainable and secure cities, wetlands, floodplains, coastal marshes and estuaries, to increase resilience to natural disasters;
- managed landscapes, such as forests, to sustain drinking water supplies;
- reducing the risks from, and severity of, floods and drought
Conserving or restoring ecosystems to manage water also delivers significant co-benefits. For example: wetlands can help regulate water but can also support a significant amount of fishery practices; restoring soils can help achieve more productive agriculture and sustainable food security; forests provide timber and non-timber resources and habitat for pollinators and wildlife; improved landscapes provide significant recreational and cultural values. These benefits should be added to water-related benefits when considering returns on investments in water related infrastructure.
Now that we have discussed the importance of biodiversity and the role played by water, we all can do our part in trying to conserve it – not only for us but for future generations so that they get to enjoy the benefits of having a diverse ecosystem.
Now, what are you doing to support water conservation? How about biodiversity? What are you motivated to do?
The UNA-GB team celebrated UN World Environment Day in full force on Tuesday! We spent the morning at John Hancock Financial’s 601 Congress St. offices recognizing them on their LEED platinum certification and spreading the word about the UN Environment Programme’s transformative work locally and globally. We then headed to Carson Beach and Dorchester Shores Reservation for a spirited beach clean-up. Our event began at John Hancock’s atrium where Jim Boyle, President, kicked off the speaking program. He shared how the 40th anniversary of WED fittingly coincided with the 150th anniversary of John Hancock and acknowledged this year’s WED theme, “Green Economy: Does It Include You?” He presented how John Hancock has long recognized the important role they must play in establishing a green economy by having not only respect for our planet but also concern for future generations. They have implemented many environmental initiatives, use resources wisely, and engage in sustainable investing. Jim Boyle saluted the work that the UN has undertaken globally in addressing this critical issue and further recognized UNA-GB for translating global causes into local action. He then passed the microphone to Richard Golob, the President of the Board at UNA-GB and a committed member of the corporate environmental community. Richard remarked that although Tuesday marked four decades of the important work that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has done, there is much more progress to be made. The UN understands that establishing a green economy is the pathway to a healthier environment and Richard hoped that our event would encourage other corporations and all of us as global citizens to engage collectively in tackling environmental issues. Richard also echoed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s call for “governments, businesses and all members of society to make the holistic choices that will ensure a sustainable future”. As an example of UNA-GB’s holistic approach, Richard talked about our Model UN programs through which middle to high school students come together to discuss and learn about world issues including clean water, sustainable development, and environmental stewardship. He noted that Model UN is a viable solution to fill an educational gap. MUN reaches 3,000 students in greater Boston.
Although Tuesday’s event had a corporate emphasis, Richard and the UNA-GB underscored the importance of a collective effort from corporations, government, and citizens to take concrete steps towards real change. Bobbi Kates-Garnick, State Undersecretary for Energy, spoke on behalf of the Patrick administration and Richard K. Sullivan about environmental leadership in Boston. We learned that Massachusetts is the #1 state in energy efficiency and that the state hopes to claim 100 green communities by the end of the summer. She stressed Massachusetts’ commitment to a green economy, through clean energy advancements, and environmental education, such as Model UN programming.
Next, Brian Glascock, Director of the Environment Department, City of Boston added to Bobbi’s comments recognizing 100 LEED buildings in Boston and explaining green initiatives that Menino’s and his administration have taken on. Boston’s growing tree canopy is an example. He celebrated Boston as an international city and cited this as even more reason to take action and step up to our environmental responsibilities.
Finally, Jennifer Taranto of U.S. Green Building Council’s Massachusetts Chapter presented John Hancock Financial with a plaque officiating their platinum achievement and mentioned their 3 other gold-certified buildings in Back Bay. Afterwards guests were welcome to peruse the green expo that John Hancock Financial hosted which included vendors who focused on recycling, composting, energy, and organic food.
After a quick wardrobe change into rain-gear, UNA-GB staff and John Hancock employees along with Vivian from the Boston Harbor Association ventured to Carson Beach in South Boston to clean garbage alongside the beach and walkway. In an hour we made quite an impact, reaching all the way to Dorchester Shores Reservation and returning with 10 bags filled with litter.
How did you celebrate World Environment Day yesterday? What steps will you take to support sustainability at global and local levels? WED may be just one day but supporting our environment is a daily commitment. Not only was it a fantastic way to strengthen our relationships with John Hancock and the BHA but also created opportunities of bonding among our staff and interns. And of course, we brightened up the beach area and helped our environment with a simple, concrete step. Changing the world really is up to each of us!