Message by UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw:
This year World Wildlife Day celebrates the theme ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’. Currently, up to 350 million people live within or close by forests, including some of our most ecologically diverse ecosystems. Indigenous communities are at the forefront of the symbiotic relationship between humans and forest, forest-dwelling wildlife and the ecosystem services they provide, for their livelihoods and their most basic needs. Not just food, shelter, energy, or medicines – but personal well-being, cultural identities, spiritual connections and collaboration with neighbours.
World Wildlife Day in 2021 reminds us that forests, forest species and the livelihoods that they support are currently at the nexus of multiple planetary crises. Biodiversity loss is a key driver of species extinction and is largely driven by habitat transformation set in train by human activity. As humanity grows larger and wealthier, so does its demand on land, and its pressures on biodiversity. Producing food, urban development, or natural resource extraction: almost three quarters of the planet’s land surface has already been transformed by humans. The pace of conversion and biodiversity loss is accelerating, and many scientists warn we are in the midst of a human-driven ‘sixth great extinction’.
Climate change, biodiversity loss and the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 can be mitigated by land restoration and conservation. World Wildlife Day is a reminder that we humans have the power to shape any environment. But we can also harness those same powers – together – to bring back landscapes from the brink of disaster.
One vital tool to support the aims of World Wildlife Day is the land restoration goal championed by the UNCCD. Recognizing the forest as a symbol of harmonious co-existence beyond political boundaries, the Peace Forest Initiative, welcomed by UNCCD Parties at COP 14, aims to nurture collective efforts for cross-border cooperation on ecosystem restoration including forests.
The UNCCD wants to unleash the potential of land restoration as an effective brake on biodiversity loss and species extinction. A green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will create more resilient economies. It will spark strong and urgent action on climate change. As we celebrate World Wildlife Day, let us also commit to reducing the loss of nature and biodiversity that is eating away at the foundations of human existence and increasing the risk of future pandemics.
An inspiring example is the Great Green Wall in the Sahel – an African-led pioneer initiative with huge potential to combat land degradation, desertification, drought, climate change, and biodiversity loss. At January’s One Planet Summit, partners announced over 14 billion dollars of new funding for the Great Green Wall. With international support like this, and countries like Ethiopia leading the way, the UNCCD can deliver land restoration that will help ensure that forests are renewed, livelihoods sustained, and biodiversity protected.