The theme of 2020’s International Day for Biological Diversity is ‘Our solutions are in nature.’ Today we are meant to reflect on and re-examine our relationship with nature – especially through the lens of the ongoing pandemic. When we do pause and reflect, the picture is bleak indeed. Globally we have caused almost 30% of all species to go extinct over the last 200 years and our actions will put almost 1 million species at risk of extinction over the next few decades. In their landmark global report in 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) stated that “…the essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.”
Biodiversity, or simply all the living organisms around (including) us, form a central part of nature and these many millions of species have their own inalienable right to exist. Biodiversity also provides essential services to us, humans, in ways that we probably never think about. Services such as pollination keeps us fed, bacteria help breaks down nutrients in soil and trees regulate our climate. These services, globally, contribute more than twice to our well-being than GDP – between $125 trillion and $145 trillion annually. Therefore the scary figure of 1 million animal and plant species being threatened with extinction is not just an indictment of our failure as co-inhabitants of earth, but the loss of these essential services pose a clear and present danger for humanity’s continued ability to live safely and survive on this planet. Shocks to the system like COVID-19, brought on by the rapid invasion of natural habitats by man, will be repeated over the coming decades by this rapid loss of biodiversity.
In Trinidad and Tobago, these services are just as critical but unfortunately not as appreciated by the regular man on the street to the decision makers in power. The Northern Range, for example, provides a range of services that include soil retention, water purification, flood prevention and climate regulation, that can be valued up to US$622 million annually. Similarly, pollinators (bees and other insects) are responsible for between 9% – 13% of annual value of all vegetable production and coastal ecosystems support up to US$390,000 per hectare per year for recreation and tourism-based activities. However, Trinidad and Tobago’s performance in maintaining these incredibly valuable sources of services still needs tremendous improvement, both at the policy level and in the public imagination. In the 2016 National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, T&T’s performance on the Aichi Targets (the global strategic plan for biodiversity), left much to be desired with almost 65% of targets showing either no progress or negative trends.
Food security, resilience to flooding in more extreme weather events and the continued ability to have secure sources of freshwater are all going to be critical to our well-being as citizens of Trinidad and Tobago into the future. These services and so many more are dependent on how we treat and live with biodiversity. However, while many of these services are almost practical and pragmatic in their relationship to our well-being, our appreciation for nature in a spiritual, emotional and mental way is also a key service that biodiversity provides. When we reflect on how we find solutions in nature, we must remember how it felt to take a walk in the fresh air after weeks in social isolation, or the joy that we feel in seeing animals feel safe enough to occupy areas that were denied them by human presence – even if some reports were fake news. Now more than ever, when we talk to each other and the decision-makers about how we build back better in a new reality, we must ensure that we place the environment in the centre of these discussions and find solutions in nature.