World Environment Day gets recognition as the biggest and most significant global celebration that encourages people to protect our natural environment from several challenges our world faces today. The World Environment, also known as People's Day, allows people an opportunity to undertake environmental actions.
The United Nations (UN) organises this occasion on the 5th of June every year to promote people's awareness of the well-being of the environment and their participation to look at the ever-growing environmental problems and protect nature from them.
In 1972, the UN General Assembly designed World Environment Day on its opening day of the Stockholm Conference or the officially known United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE). Themed on "Only One Earth", this day became an occasion to be celebrated all over the world since 1974. On this day, different events are organised by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). Every year since 1987, a host country has been selected where special activities are carried out to mark and celebrate the day.
In line with this, Pakistan has been selected as the host of World Environment Day 2021 to uphold the theme, 'Ecosystem Restoration' that denotes collective assistance in all effective manners to recover the ecosystems which have been affected badly by some of our inconsiderate actions like deforestation, pollution, etc.
The act of Ecosystem Restoration can be undertaken in another way conserving the intact or unaffected part of the ecosystems. There are several advantages of having a healthy ecosystem with rich biodiversity such as bigger and more useful yields of timber and fish, and more fertile land areas. Mentionable that World Environment Day 2020 was hosted by Colombia alongside Germany with the theme 'Celebrate Biodiversity'.
World Environment Day 2021 presents the world a huge opportunity to initiate and strengthen a worldwide movement amidst the launch of 'UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration' on the same day as our effort to restore the balance of our relationship with nature. Ecosystem Restoration can be administered in a variety of forms such as tree plantation, restoration of gardens to a more natural state, change of diets, greening of towns, purification of rivers, and cleanup of coasts. This kind of generation can ensure peace with nature.
With one life form producing oxygen while another breathing in it, ecosystems are interconnected and dependent on all living organisms, from the tiniest bacteria to the giant vertebrate. Some species provide food for others, some of which turn out to be prey to larger species, all contributing to the precious balance of the ecosystems.
The ecosystem is actually a complex of all living organisms where they share an environment and interrelationships within a distinct unit of space. It consists of both abiotic and biotic constituents in which the former include air, soil, minerals, water, sunlight, and the climate, and the latter include the rest, the living organisms.
As ecosystems support all forms of life, the earth along with its inhabitants could have been happier if the habitats were healthier. The aim of the United Nations Decade on "Ecosystem Restoration" is to delay, prevent, or reverse any damage or destruction to the environment across all oceans and continents. Contribution and cooperation from every concerned party can build the world's potential ability to prevent hunger, mitigate climate changes, and avert mass extinction.
Our well-being and prosperity as a race rely mostly on the diversity and vitality of natural ecosystems which include everything from forests and farmlands to coasts, freshwater, oceans. However, we, the humans, keep depleting these resources at a rate that is unprecedented. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration allows us to think about reversing the tide to ensure a healthy environment and a prosperous future for us all.
On 5th June, 2021, the initiative for the UN Decade (2021-2030) on Ecosystem Restoration is marked officially, which makes a clarion call to the global community for coordinated approaches to conserve and revive the world's habitats. On World Environment Day 2021 hosted by Pakistan, this initiative can be the recognition of the benefit that humans and nature share.
We recognise the aftermath of the loss or destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem, but we barely do anything about it. The widely prevalent Covid-19 situation has turned everything upside down presumably diverting our attention away from biodiversity conservation. Over the past five decades, we have lost around 35 percent of the total area of wetlands and 70 percent of our fish, mammals, and bird species. One in eight animal and plant species awaits their extinction due in the next few decades.
Over the past few decades, many countries have demonstrated their commitment to keep up good practices to make this planet a better and safer place. One of those initiatives includes the use of natural alternatives to single-use products that use plastics. Now we use or reuse cotton, paper, and jute bags instead of plastics, cotton masks in place of surgical masks, dried-leave plates and plastic straws instead of plastics. All of these habits indicate our concern for maintaining eco-friendly practices. However, we cannot call them natural solutions simply because they are based on natural elements. In fact, uses of these solutions cannot be linked to any benefit to the ecosystem or its biodiversity.
On the eve of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we can uphold the importance of organic or nature-based products and solutions as the principal approach to restore the natural ecosystem that keeps degrading each day. This approach also echoes with the theme of this year's World Environment Day.
So, leaders and communities around the world must understand and consider this concept deeply to avoid any instance where the balance of the natural environment is disregarded. Time has arrived for us to take pragmatic initiatives to ensure biodiversity conservation and prevent climate change, thereby protecting the environment. With this burning question in mind, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rightly said, "There is no 'Plan B' because we do not have a 'Planet B.' We have to work and galvanise our actions.
Md Touhidul Alam Khan is additional managing director of Standard Bank Limited.