I am at the Eight Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) at the United Nations headquarters, where governments of 69 countries, civil society and major groups have come together to debate and discuss on the themes of the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals agenda. The snow storm in New York did not dampen the enthusiasm and participation and vibrant discussions and debates ensued on both days of February 3 and 4 when the theme of “Oceans, forests and biodiversity” was discussed. The co-chairs from Kenya and Hungary led the discussions and the eighth session is the last stocking session for the development of sustainable development goals, further to which drafting of the goals will begin.
The session began with compelling presentations from Prof. Jane Lubchenco from Oregon State University and Dr. Sylvia Earle from National Geographic. The most interesting points that arose during the presentations were the need for immediate action and for an integrated approach towards the conservation of the Earth’s oceans and seas, forests and biodiversity. Professor Lubchenco specifically argued for standalone goal in the SDGs that integrates all the pillars under theme and connects the dots since these principles are intertwined.
“The challenge and the opportunity are in the integration,” Lubchenco stated and called on the international community to take ownership of the environment. Dr. Earle, who has a record of spending over 7 000 hours under water and has studied life in oceans closely, provided a detailed explanation of how organisms, micro-organisms and in general the environment interact and also contribute towards the well-being of individuals and communities through the provision of food security; energy; poverty eradication among others. She stated that oceans are our life support systems and the plants in the ocean supply most of the oxygen that we use and breathe. The room was hushed when amazing images of ocean creatures were beamed in her presentation, as Earle concluded: “We need to protect our oceans as if our lives depend on it, because they do.”
The other sessions were also a continuation of the challenges faced in conserving forests and biodiversity, and what the goal on eco-system management should look like. The presenters gave a detailed analysis of the adverse effects of desertification and depletion of biodiversity on the environment, economy and social well-being. “According to the FAO, 13 million hectares of forests are lost every year. This is mainly due to illegal logging, fires, agricultural and urban expansion, driven by constantly increasing population and demand for food and fibres, inter alia, and it is increased by weak governance.” stated the representative from European Union and its member States. Making forests worth more standing than cut, was needed, as people deforest due to an economic incentive; therefore, a larger incentive should be given to make them NOT cut the trees.
The pollution of our oceans is growing and loss of forests and biodiversity is increasing. The presenters urged delegates to recognise that oceans, forests and biodiversity provides all the requirements that will propel sustainable development and losing it would result in the end of humankind. Urgency of this matter was echoed by the delegate from Bangladesh, who noted that efforts need to be intensified to protect forests and biodiversity before the depletion reaches to an irreversible stage.
With seven billion people living in this world needing resources from nature, population growth was recognised as a major factor that causes environmental degradation. I was able to relate to this, as in Malawi the population has trebled over the past 40 years and 85 percent of the country’s population are natural resources-dependent. Therefore, it is no wonder that overexploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation is rapidly changing Malawi’s landscapes.
The author works for LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa in Zomba.