Truly Sustainable Development on Biodiversity Day (and every day)

By Ryan Mitchell and Devyn Powell

Today, May 22, is the International Day for Biological Diversity—an occasion celebrated every year to remind us how important it is to protect the many rich and varied forms of life that share our planet. This year, the United Nations’ theme for this day is “Biodiversity for Sustainable Development.”

Suspension bridge, Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras

Members of EcoLogic’s staff and Board of Directors cross a suspension bridge in beautiful Pico Bonito National Park, Honduras—a hotspot of tropical biodiversity (Photo: Nick Shufro)

EcoLogic and our local partners work to protect biodiversity in Central America and Mexico—the region known as Mesoamerica, and one of the most biologically diverse parts of the world—every day. But on this day of recognition, we are proud join the international community in this celebration of the amazing variety of life on Earth.

Unfortunately, many environmental challenges pose great threats to biodiversity in Mesoamerica, including staggering rates of deforestation, pollution and degradation of fresh water, and climate change. These challenges are scary: As of 2006, Guatemala has been losing the equivalent of 200 football stadiums of forest per day, adding up to about 73,000 hectares deforested annually. Two-thirds of Mexican aquifers are over-exploited, losing water at 190% their recharge rate. In many respects, climate change is hitting the world’s tropical regions more significantly than its temperate ones. Honduras is one of the most vulnerable countries to storms, which are intensifying and becoming more frequent as the climate continues to change.

The United Nations believes it may have a solution to some of these ongoing threats. As part of an ambitious Development Agenda for the next 15 years, the UN has proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Today’s “Biodiversity for Sustainable Development” theme is meant to highlight these draft goals—and to emphasize that “humanity’s fate is tightly linked with biological diversity.”

At EcoLogic, we deeply understand this link, and it underlies all the work we do. We like to say that “conservation is powered by people”—but the reverse is also true: that people across the globe depend on the natural environment and all the biodiversity it holds for our health, livelihoods, and happiness.

Farmer in agroforestry plot in Guatemala

A farmer stands in his agroforestry plot in Huehuetenango, Guatemala (Photo: Dan Grossman)

The UN’s SDGs are intended as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals launched in 2000, and are meant to direct governments’ policymaking decisions on a range of issues related to the well-being and prosperity of people and the planet. The SDGs will not be finalized until a UN Summit in September, but 17 draft goals have been proposed. The ambitious objectives of the SDGs include “taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere,” and “ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

Many of the SDGs aim to address some of the needs that EcoLogic’s work has been addressing on the ground in Mesoamerica for the last two decades. We are excited and hopeful that the international community will take meaningful steps toward building the future we dream of—a just and sustainable world where the natural environment is protected and valued, and poor and rural communities are given the resources, empathy and respect they need to overcome the impacts of poverty and systemic oppression—at a larger scale than we could ever create on our own.

We believe that the preservation of biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural places is critically important to the survival of us all—people, plants, and animals alike. In addition to the intrinsic value of nature and wildlife, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems provide humankind with many of the things that sustain our lives, including clean air and water, fertile soil, a stable climate, food, medicines, materials and technologies. Because of the immeasurable value of the world’s biodiversity, we hope that the world looks back at the SDGs in 2030—their “deadline”—and judges them a success.

Of course, there is no guarantee that governments will actually achieve or try to achieve these goals. Response to these goals must also come from community, civil society and non-profit organizations big and small.

Since 1993, EcoLogic has been building partnerships with rural and indigenous communities in Central America and Mexico, and helping give them the tools and training they need to restore and conserve the tropical ecosystems where they live and on which they rely for basic necessities and well-being. We hope that the lessons learned from our work with local communities in Mesoamerica can inform other projects that can help protect biodiversity in many other parts of the world—and make the world envisioned in the SGDs a reality.

We continue to explore new opportunities and challenge ourselves to scale up our work to have a positive impact on as many landscapes and as many lives as we can. But the core values that guide our work remain the same: conservation is powered by people, and that power is strongest when it grows from the grassroots. This Biodiversity Day, like every day, we will continue to build that power, community by community, and with patience, trust, empathy, and love.

Happy Biodiversity Day!

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