The Solution is in Nature:
Celebrating World Environment Day in Papua New Guinea
By Dirk Wagener, UNDP Resident Representative
June 5th each year marks World Environment Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on our connection to nature and reaffirm our commitment to protecting its future.
The lives of all Papua New Guineans are inextricably linked to the environment. It provides the basis for livelihoods and economic development. An estimated 80-85% of the population are dependent, in some way, on subsistence agriculture. Papua New Guinea’s rain forests – the third largest in the world– are the ‘lungs of the Pacific’ and are the source of most livelihoods. Its reefs offer protection from natural disasters. These offer striking examples of the mutually beneficial relationship between people and nature.
2020 was forecast as a ‘Super Year for Nature.’ Multiple global meetings were planned to showcase the contribution of the natural environment to global economic development and social mobility, culminating in a new plan for next decade.
The year has started very differently than we expected. COVID-19 has had a devasting impact globally. However, the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the connectivity between health, economic stability and nature. Transmittable diseases that move from wildlife to humans (such as COVID-19) are a direct result of increased encroachment into protected areas, land use change reducing forest cover and illegal trade in wildlife. It has taught us to reassess our relationship with nature and to ‘build back better’, more resilient, more sustainably.
Nature can and should contribute to the global recovery process. Protecting it will ensure more resilient economic and social prosperity. Promoting sustainable consumption and production, embracing renewable energy and more sustainable livelihoods are at the heart of green and circular business models. A carbon neutral and green economy is at the heart of a sustainable future and the basis for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting countries to respond and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. In Papua New Guinea, UNDP is delivering a range of environment, energy and disaster preparedness initiatives in partnership with Government. These actively support improved crisis management and build longer-term resilience to future health, climatic and economic shocks. UNDP’s efforts to support environmental and social safeguards increases protection of the most vulnerable, especially women and children. These are critical to ensuring a world that leaves no-one behind.
UNDP is supporting Government establish a biodiversity fund in Papua New Guinea. This fund will support communities, reliant on nature, to weather future economic and climatic shocks, finance nature protection and champion new conservation and climate compatible business models. It builds on previous work to strengthen a more cohesive and effectively managed protected area system. UNDP’s work supports value-adding for economic activities such as coffee and cocoa production and fisheries management in a way that enhances the protection of areas of high conservation value which at the same time are supporting livelihoods. This increases food security and income generation for many communities, and particularly for women. UNDP’s forestry management projects are enhancing forest carbon stocks, developing new financial mechanisms to reduce deforestation and maintain the tropical forest that covers approximately 75% of the country at present.
Crises expose existing inequalities and risks exacerbating impacts on vulnerable communities. The importance of PNG’s long-term resilience to future health, economic and climatic shocks is critical. Transformative change for the future of the country is a priority and is the lesson the current crisis has taught us.
World Environment Day is a time for celebrating what we have achieved together. It is a time for repositioning our relationship with nature and reconfirming our commitment to its future.