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A Growing Shift in the Narrative about Climate Action

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. (file photo) There is a growing shift and awareness in mainstream political, corporate and public debate about the need for climate action. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. (file photo) There is a growing shift and awareness in mainstream political, corporate and public debate about the need for climate action. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2021 – A keen awareness about the intersection of our ecosystem and the “accelerating destabilisation of the climate” is helping shift the narrative for climate action and can help us transition from being polluters to becoming protectors of the climate, said Marco Lambertini, Director General at the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Science has never been clearer. We are currently witnessing a catastrophic decline in our planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity, and an accelerating destabilisation of the climate. And today we also understand that the two are interconnected,” Lambertini told IPS. “This isn’t in fact new.”

Lambertini spoke to IPS following the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) which took place this week, with the launch of the “Medium-Term Strategy” by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Over two days, world leaders gathered virtually to discuss climate sustainability and how deeply the coronavirus pandemic worsened the current climate crisis.

“Humanity continues to misappropriate nature, commoditise it, destroy it,” Keriako Tobiko, the Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Kenya, said on Monday. “The consequences of our actions are obvious – we’re paying a heavy price for that.”

Indian environmental activist Afroz Shah, a UNEP Champion of the Earth, said during UNEA-5 that leaders must go beyond talk and ensure implementation of measures to protect the environment.

“There must be a paradigm shift in the narrative, to go from being a polluter to a protector,” he said, urging leaders to make sure this message was given to every citizen.

Lambertini told IPS this “shift” in the narrative was already happening.

“What is new is that this awareness is beginning to reach mainstream political, corporate and public debate,” Lambertini added. “The narrative is also shifting. Conserving nature is not only being seen as an ecological and moral issue, but also an economic, development, health and equity issue. This is a true cultural revolution in our civilisation.”

Lambertini’s insight complemented what was said during UNEA-5.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said during the assembly that a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic would be a step in the right direction of implementing changes to protect the environment.

Tackling environmental sustainability was, after all, another means to ending poverty, she said.

“We need to start putting words into action after UNEA-5 and that means backing a green recovery from the pandemic, stronger and national determined contributions to the Paris Agreement, more funding for adaptation, agreeing on an ambitious and implementable post-2020 biodiversity framework, and a new progress on plastic pollution,” Andersen said.

Meelis Münt, Estonia’s Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment, echoed Andersen’s point.

“We are confident that a green and digital transition will support our post-pandemic recovery,” he said, adding Estonia aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, with their government’s plans to “lead the production of solid coastal fuel based electricity by 2035”.

Other speakers at UNEA-5 included ministers from Kenya, Brazil, Jamaica and Malawi, among others, many of whom shared the initiatives their countries were implementing to protect the environment.

Marcus Henrique Morais Paranaguá, Brazil’s Deputy Minister for Climate and International Relations, pointed out that for Brazilians it was a unique situation where development and preservation of the Amazon forest had to be balanced.

“The Amazon forest alone occupies 49 percent of our territory and over 60 percent of our territory is covered today with natural vegetation,” he said. “Brazil must implement innovative public policy to balance nature conservation and the promotion of sustainable development.”

Pearnel Charles Jr., Jamaica’s Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change, shared that his country’s government was in the process of updating their climate change policy so that it complemented the Paris Agreement. He added that Jamaica’s administration also increased its “emissions reduction ambition,” and was implementing a tree planting initiative to reduce biodiversity loss. 

Tobiko of Kenya said a big milestone for the country was banning single-use plastic in public conservation areas. Kenya has recently been acknowledged and applauded for its successful fight against single use plastic.   

“We cannot afford another lost decade for biodiversity,” Lambertini told IPS. “Many ecosystems like coral reefs and tropical forests are heading towards tipping points and one million species are now threatened with extinction.”

“If we are to collectively survive and thrive, particularly in this COVID-19 pandemic, we must take the opportunity to review, reevaluate and possibly reinvent in charting the most sustainable way forward,” Charles Jr. said.

Overall, Lambertini was hopeful, citing a heightened awareness of climate justice among activists, and the fact that nature conservation was now seen as an economic, health and equity issue.

“We need clarity and alignment, to create a level playing field, and a north star/southern cross able to unite governments, businesses, investors and consumers around the ambition science demands,” he told IPS. “Only in this way we will meet the challenge to transition to an equitable, nature-positive and net-zero carbon world and forums like UNEA-5 must pave the way for these commitments and more importantly, concrete actions.”

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