In this excerpt from Nature's article titled, "The biodiversity leader who is fighting for nature amid a pandemic", Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, discusses the need for countries to build back better, given the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
"How has the pandemic affected the biodiversity agenda?
One could say that I have been appointed at a bad time for biodiversity, considering that the whole world is just emerging from, or still in, lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the same time, I see it as a major opportunity, as biodiversity is being discussed more than ever before. There is greater awareness of the impact that human activities can have on nature, and of the connection between human health and biodiversity.
Our interference, through deforestation, agricultural expansion, livestock intensification and habitat fragmentation, has exposed wild animals and brought them into closer contact with people, which has resulted in the spillover of pathogens and zoonotic diseases, human-to-human transmission through trade and tourism, and the explosive pandemic we currently find ourselves in.
These are not new issues to the convention. But the pandemic has brought these issues to the fore, and has emphasized discussions about how to prevent future pandemics. I still consider 2020 to be a super year for biodiversity, as we spend it preparing, talking, creating awareness and showing the links. 2021 will be the year for the deal.
How will you ensure that you don’t lose momentum by next year?
My number-one goal is to get more stakeholders engaged and speaking about the importance of biodiversity and nature, and learning about the impact of human activities on biodiversity loss, and on climate change, changes in land use, pollution and invasive species.
These stakeholders will help us by putting positive pressure on governments to agree on an ambitious and transformative, post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and can then help us in implementing the agreement. We don’t want Kunming just to be a meeting of environmental communities, but to involve youth, businesses, local communities, cities and municipalities.
These efforts are continuing in the virtual world. If anything, we have had more consultations and more time to prepare and engage during this period. I am seeing a lot of support and commitment, but for now these are only words. Will they translate into tangible, measurable, smart actions that will make a difference? That keeps me up at night."