- One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to rally global ambition for a biodiversity framework that sets the world on a path to a sustainable future, says Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.
- Mrema, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), says there’s growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity for everything from food security to the regulation of water and air quality, to pest and disease regulation.
- “World leaders fully recognize that the continued deterioration and degradation of Earth’s natural ecosystems are having major impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” she says.
- In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Mrema talks about building a robust post-2020 framework after the Aichi Biodiversity Targets fell short, how the conservation sector has changed over her career, and her hopes for the CBD summit coming up later this year.
2020 was supposed to be the year for evaluating the past decade’s progress in meeting biodiversity conservation targets and setting the agenda for the next decade. But then the pandemic hit, plunging the world into hardship and uncertainty, prompting postponements of global meetings, and pushing biodiversity to the back of most people’s minds. But the nature of a pandemic brought on by a zoonotic virus had an unexpected effect: It catalyzed much greater awareness that human health is underpinned by a healthy planet. This realization sparked a surge in interest in concepts like the “One Health” approach to manage ecosystems, wildlife and livestock, and economies to promote resilience and reduce the risk of disease transmission from animals to people. Today, actors ranging from CEOs to politicians to celebrities are talking up the importance of biodiversity.
At the same time, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has continued to move forward despite the postponements. Planning meetings and negotiations have shifted online, allowing participation by parties who might otherwise not have had the resources to join in-person talks.
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of the CBD, says the push to strengthen a global framework for addressing the extinction crisis has gained “great momentum” despite the pandemic.
“Despite the ongoing pandemic, our preparations and negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework have advanced well, we are still on track to develop a robust and ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” Mrema told Mongabay during a recent interview.
“We have seen, notwithstanding the pandemic, great momentum build up over the last year. Biodiversity has received a lot of attention. People are starting to connect the dots, and see its importance for achieving, for instance, the Sustainable Development Goals. People in general are now more aware that continued biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems presents a fundamental risk to the healthy and stable ecosystems that sustain all aspects of our societies; and that it reduces the ability of biodiversity and ecosystems to provide essential life-sustaining services, from food security and nutrition to the regulation of water and air quality, but also pest and disease regulation.”
Mrema says evidence of the growing government interest also comes from last September’s U.N. Summit on Biodiversity, when “a record” number of countries addressed the meeting.
Accordingly, Mrema expressed hope that the post-2020 global biodiversity framework would be stronger than the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010, which failed to meet any of their goals.
“World leaders fully recognize that the continued deterioration and degradation of Earth’s natural ecosystems are having major impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. Thus, the pandemic has had the effect of stepping up global ambition and commitments on nature to ensure a sustainable future for all, and has set in motion the political momentum needed to develop a robust and ambitious post-2020 framework that sets countries on the path to a sustainable future.”
Mrema discussed how her humble beginnings in a village on the slope of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania influenced her career, how the conservation sector has evolved since she got her start in the 1990s, and her outlook for the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity during an April 2021 interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.
Mongabay: What inspired your interest in nature and the environment?
Elizabeth Mrema: My childhood inspired my passion for what I do today. I grew up on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world (5,895 meters), at a place called Marangu, Moshi, which is located precisely 2 kilometers from where mountain climbers begin climbing the mountain. My home village is situated some 2,000 meters above sea level, which is very high in comparison with many other parts of Tanzania, including the town of Moshi itself, and thus gets very cold during the cold months.
When I was growing up, bushes, trees, forests could be found everywhere. “Deforestation” was not part of our vocabulary. Fresh, clean and crystal-clear water streams and waterfalls flowed freely from the mountains, into all areas, including homestead farms and gardens. Parents or elders would simply divert the needed water into their backyard farms, which were then full of coffee plants and bananas, the latter being the region’s staple food. Diversions were also created for cattle and goats, as every home, according to traditional practices, kept them. The land was always watery and very green, with plenty of water and food generally. In fact, it rained almost throughout the year. But, sadly, this is not the case now.
Unfortunately, as I grew into adulthood, forests and trees kept being slashed for firewood, infrastructure, and development. As a result, water became scarcer, until there was no more free water flowing into the homestead gardens as once was the case. In fact, as time went by, the less rain and water we saw. Today, during the hot months, you can see women and children searching for what has now become a very precious resource. As a result of this, together with other environmental changes that I witnessed in my formative years, I became more and more inquisitive and I started to question what was happening.
This led to my interest in the natural environment, which I began studying until eventually, I was in a position to do something about it and actually ‘walk the talk’. That said, we must all ‘walk the talk’, because it is only by working together that we can achieve our mutual global goals.
Mongabay: You’ve had a long career working on environmental issues. What are the biggest differences between when you got your start and now?
Elizabeth Mrema: Indeed, with over a quarter of a century working on environmental issues, I have witnessed major differences between then and today. For example, I studied law in the late 70s and it was only at the graduate level, in the late 80s, that I began studying subjects related to environmental law, namely, the law of the sea. Environmental law as a fully-fledged subject did not yet exist in many universities. In African universities, it was completely non-existent. Fortunately, that has now changed, as virtually every university in the world, including Africa, offer a range of environmental law courses and degrees.
Furthermore, when I joined the UN Environment Programme in the early 90s my work focused on, among other things, supporting countries, and particularly African countries, in developing and implementing environmental law and institutional building. The difference between then and now is quite astounding. Africa back then had hardly any ministry or government department responsible for environment. Today, virtually every country in Africa, and in fact around the world, have environment ministries and, in many cases, an environmental management authority or something similar.
Likewise, institutional building at the time was accompanied with the development of national environmental legal frameworks which saw a major shift away from sectoral laws (forest, wildlife, water, environmental impact assessment, etc.) to what we see today, overarching framework environmental laws preceded by environmental policies, strategies and action plans. These framework environmental laws more or less went from being nonexistent to what today exists in every country’s legal frameworks.
Equally important, we have seen positive developments in national constitutions, not just in Africa, but throughout the world, as more than 150 countries have now incorporated language in their constitutions stating the procedural and substantive right to a clean and healthy environment. We have also seen how the interpretation of the constitutional right to life and freedom of speech, for instance, has evolved to mean and include the right to a clean and healthy environment without which other rights cannot be exorcised.
In Africa in particular, but the same is true globally, I have seen many countries go from having no dedicated environmental courts or environmental tribunals or environmental chambers within the existing courts to the present time where many countries have established such institutions in order to expedite the delivery of justice to environment-related cases.
In my current job, I have witnessed a growing number of regional and multilateral environmental agreements negotiated and developed in the last twenty-five years of working at the UN, to the extent that the world is currently being challenged with the effective implementation and enforcement of over 500 such environment-related agreements.
Mongabay: You’ve been serving as executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity since late 2019, a period which almost perfectly coincides with the emergence of COVID and subsequent pandemic. That’s very difficult timing given that 2020 was supposed to be the year for evaluating the past decade’s progress in meeting Aichi targets and setting the agenda for the next decade. How has the transition into the role been for you? And what has been the biggest challenge?
Elizabeth Mrema: Fortunately, despite the ongoing pandemic, our preparations and negotiations on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework have advanced well, we are still on track to develop a robust and ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
We have had some success with holding a variety of smaller meetings virtually over the past few months, as Parties have had to adapt to the new normal, in addition to the two informal sessions held virtually in the past month, in preparation for the twenty-fourth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice and the third meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation, to be held virtually in May and June.
These two meetings, together with the third meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, will need to be held prior to the UN Biodiversity Conference which has been now rescheduled for 11-24 October in Kunming, China.
We have seen, notwithstanding the pandemic, great momentum build up over the last year. Biodiversity has received a lot of attention. People are starting to connect the dots, and see its importance for achieving, for instance, the Sustainable Development Goals. People in general are now more aware that continued biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems presents a fundamental risk to the healthy and stable ecosystems that sustain all aspects of our societies; and that it reduces the ability of biodiversity and ecosystems to provide essential life-sustaining services, from food security and nutrition to the regulation of water and air quality, but also pest and disease regulation.
Last year, a record number of countries addressed the UN Summit on Biodiversity. Biodiversity has become a global issue of great concern. We feel now, perhaps more than ever before, that world leaders are willing to tackle these issues head on, and we hope that the political momentum generated over the last year continues on to Kunming.
Mongabay: Well before the emergence of the pandemic, it was clear the world was going to miss biodiversity targets by a wide mark. What do you see as the principal reasons for the failure to realize the ambitions set under the Aichi targets?
Elizabeth Mrema: There is no single reason that none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were fully met. The Aichi Targets were ambitious and reaching them would have required a substantial shift away from business-as-usual.
When countries adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, they collectively agreed to this level of ambition. However, the fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5), released last September, identified two main gaps:
- First there was a gap in national ambition. The national commitments countries made in relation to the Strategic Plan and the actions they took to reach these were, in general, not consistent with the aspirations agreed globally. Only about a quarter of the national targets set have a similar scope and level of ambition as the Aichi Targets.
- Secondly, there was a gap in action. While countries have taken action on biodiversity, the scale of these is not consistent with the overall challenges facing biodiversity and need to be significantly scaled up. For example, GBO-5 concluded that only about a third of national targets are on track to be met, and only about a tenth of these have a similar scope and level of ambition to the Aichi Targets.
Other reasons for the limited progress made towards the Aichi Targets are the need to increase efforts to address the direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss; strengthen the integration of gender, the role of indigenous peoples and local communities and stakeholder engagement in implementation; strengthen national biodiversity strategies and action plans and associated planning processes; develop well-designed, ‘SMART’ goals and targets; reduce time lags in planning and account for time lags in implementation; allow for effective review and sustained and targeted support to countries; increase learning and adaptive management; and, prioritize greater and more sustained attention to implementation generally.
We should also point out that, while it’s true that the world failed to fully achieve the 20 Aichi Targets, there were some successes. For example, we reached the agreed level of protection for land and sea from 10 to 15% terrestrial and 3 to 7% marine areas. And by end of the year, we should meet the 17 & 10% commitments. We have also made good progress on invasive species, we’ve seen a reduction in the rate of deforestation by 30%, and the number of extinctions was likely reduced two-to four-fold.
Thus, the key message here is ‘if we take action, we make progress’. But we need to do better. A variety of actions, if taken, will make the post-2020 global biodiversity framework stronger.
Mongabay: Beyond postponement of meetings, what has been the impact of COVID on the CBD process?
Elizabeth Mrema: Despite everything that has happened over the past year, we have seen some good news that will help build momentum in the lead up to the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming and the adoption of the post-2020 framework.
For instance, last September’s UN Summit on Biodiversity provided an indication of how important a global issue biodiversity has now become. A record number of countries – nearly 150 countries and 72 Heads of State and Government addressed the Summit. And prior to the Summit, the Leader’s Pledge for Nature, which includes a renewed effort to reduce deforestation, halt unsustainable fishing practices, eliminate harmful subsidies, and begin the transition to sustainable food production systems, has now seen 84 countries and the EU sign it, committing to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.
And the One Planet Summit, held in January, saw world leaders highlighting the destruction of nature as increasing the risk of future pandemics and key developments such as the announcement by the governments of the UK and France to earmark 30% of their overseas public climate funding to nature-based solutions, additional financial commitments from Norway and Germany, and the launch of the PREZODE initiative, the first global initiative to help prevent the next pandemic through collaborative research and reducing pressures on biodiversity. The PREZODE initiative is also in-line with the ‘One Health’ approach, in its ambition to develop measures that take into account all stakeholders to protect humans, the planet, and socio-ecosystems.
What this tells me is that there is no longer any confusion about the importance of biodiversity for human wellbeing. World leaders fully recognize that the continued deterioration and degradation of Earth’s natural ecosystems are having major impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. Thus, the pandemic has had the effect of stepping up global ambition and commitments on nature to ensure a sustainable future for all, and has set in motion the political momentum needed to develop a robust and ambitious post-2020 framework that sets countries on the path to a sustainable future.
Mongabay: Do you see any opportunities arising out of COVID in terms recognition of the importance of biodiversity or impetus for shifting away from business-as-usual approaches to economic development?
Elizabeth Mrema: The COVID-19 crisis has given us a reset button on our relationship with nature and reaffirmed what we already knew—that biodiversity is fundamental for human health—and it’s given us a unique opportunity to re-imagine and transform our relationship with nature while promoting community and global health.
Importantly, nature has taken on a new importance in people’s lives. More people now than ever before recognize how important nature is for human well-being, livelihoods, and sustainable development in ways that perhaps they hadn’t thought of before. More people now also understand the connection between the deterioration of nature and zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.
And, as we re-strategize for post-COVID recovery, there is a growing realization that safeguarding the environment must be at the heart of development plans. Quite simply, we need to move our societies into a more sustainable co-existence with nature.
One way to achieve this is through taking, as I mentioned before, the ‘One Health’ approach, which calls for managing ecosystems, including agricultural and urban ecosystems, as well as the use of wildlife, through an integrated approach, to promote healthy ecosystems and healthy people. The ‘One Health’ approach can help to ensure that ecosystems, including agricultural ecosystems, rural and urban environments, and the trade connections among them, are managed to promote resilience and health outcomes including reducing the risk of disease outbreaks. And while there is no question that substantial funding will be needed for the effective implementation of a biodiversity-inclusive One Health transition, it would be a small fraction of the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic alone. Surely that is a price worth paying.
Mongabay: Some governments are probably going to resist the push to increase conservation targets and will say that it constrains economic development. Is there discussion of how to bring those countries to the table and make sure conservation is sustainable in the long-term?
Elizabeth Mrema: The world made significant progress in the past decades in achieving socio-economic development, and in reducing poverty and hunger. However, according to the World Bank, we still have more than half a billion people living in absolute poverty (669 million in 2017; estimated 644 million in 2019). Moreover, global extreme poverty is expected by the Bank to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years, due to the disruptions associated with the pandemic (namely, the pandemic-induced global new poor are estimated to be between 119 and 124 million in 2020, and an additional 143 to 163 million in 2021).
From this perspective, it is perfectly legitimate to put the highest priority on socio-economic development. The Convention’s Article 20, on financial resources, states this explicitly and maps out the obligations of developed and developing countries in this regard. This article has provided a useful overall steering rod for the Contracting Parties in their deliberations, and I expect that it will continue to do so.
In this context, we also need to recognize and strengthen the economic and business case for biodiversity. We know that nature and the ecosystem services it provides underpins socio-economic development and human well-being. Many of the essential services nature provides benefit primarily the poorest people. Consequently, the further decline of nature will undermine socioeconomic development and poverty eradication – ongoing biodiversity loss will thus jeopardize attainment of the SDGs. In addition, harnessing the benefits and solutions provided by nature opens up significant market opportunities. A string of scientific reports has shown this compellingly over the past years – with the Dasgupta review on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity being the most recent.
In order to harness the economic benefits of nature and biodiversity, we will have to re-align incentives across governments, economic sectors and society at large, in order to make production and consumption more sustainable. We need to re-orient our investments from biodiversity-harmful activities to biodiversity-friendly or, at least, biodiversity-neutral ones. To use the buzzword: we will have to make progress in mainstreaming biodiversity into economic and political decision-making, and into business models and operations. This is pretty much unfinished business, both in developing and in developed countries, and I hope that the post-2020 framework will provide a strong basis to make the urgently needed progress on this front.
Coming back to resource mobilization, the consensus among Parties in the past has been that financial resources for implementing the Convention need to be mobilized from all sources: both from public and private sources, through both traditional and innovative means, and importantly, both from domestic and from international sources. The challenge is to negotiate a package that is balanced and whose language is agreeable to everybody. It is clear though that it needs to include a strong component on international resource flows to developing countries and countries with economies in transition. I am optimistic in this regard – several developed countries have announced concrete initiatives and commitments to this effect, for instance at the UN Biodiversity Summit last September, and I found this very encouraging. There is, as you know, also a renewed discussion on debt relief – this can be another important piece of the puzzle.
Mongabay: For climate change mitigation, there are clearly defined targets. But this is harder to do with biodiversity given our limited understanding of baselines (like the number of species on the planet) and the challenges of measuring change. What do you expect a target for the biodiversity crisis to look like?
Elizabeth Mrema: Biodiversity under the Convention is defined broadly not only to include the variety of living species around the world, but also the ecological systems of which they are a part.
It is true that the complexity of biodiversity makes it difficult to set a single metric in the way that the world has set a 2-degrees goal for climate change. We do not have one metric that will set the stage for the post-2020 framework, instead we are setting ambitions goals to 2050 which aim to capture protecting species, ecosystems and the value that people receive from biodiversity.
The pathway for achieving these goals will be through a series of targets which include a broad range of actions needed to meet these goals – for example, in the draft framework there are targets related to protected areas, pollution reduction, sustainable production and consumption, finance, inclusivity of biodiversity implementation and other topics. If pursued in isolation, none of the targets will have the necessary impact on our biodiversity goals, these targets should be seen truly as a frameworks approach where we need to make progress across all the targets.
With regards to baselines, monitoring the progress toward the goals and targets of the global biodiversity framework is critical in terms of being able to identify gaps in terms of implementation, to target interventions, to guide decision-making and to ensure that the world can make progress in averting the looming biodiversity crisis. Through the Convention we are working to develop an agreed set of indicators which will be used to track national, regional and global progress. We are looking at a monitoring framework which will allow us to see changes in biodiversity loss, restoration and other progress indicators from 2020 forward. New technologies and data sources have greatly improved our ability to monitor biodiversity and in some cases new data science techniques have even provided a window back in time through the analysis of older satellite data, for example, the landsat images which go back to the 1970s. However, additional investment in national data collection and monitoring systems will still be required if we want to better understand some of the remote, and most biologically diverse, parts of the planet.
Mongabay: The financing mechanisms for climate change mitigation seem better established than for biodiversity in that governments and companies are increasingly factoring the cost of carbon emissions into decision making. Is there much discussion about how to increase the awareness of the value of biodiversity?
Elizabeth Mrema: We are indeed lagging behind the discussions and developments in the climate world. This has in my view to do with silo thinking and policy prioritization, but also with more technical challenges, such as with developing biodiversity metrics that can easily be incorporated into business planning and financial products.
However, I am encouraged by recent developments and progress made. For instance, we did attain this decade’s target to double international biodiversity finance to developing countries. We do now have a process towards a Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosure, trying to emulate earlier work on climate by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.
Increasingly, there is a dynamic interest to look at the synergy space between climate and biodiversity in multilateral and bilateral development banks and the Green Climate Fund. And, regarding biodiversity metrics, it is noteworthy that the ecosystem guidance of the United Nations System of Environment-Economic Accounting was just adopted as a global statistical standard by the UN. So, in conclusion, I believe that there is much discussion going on and, even more encouraging, it is now starting to generate some concrete results.
Mongabay: Adding on to the finance question, what is the state of the discussion on where the financing will come from for protected area management? What kinds of models will be best suited to hitting the targets?
Elizabeth Mrema: I don’t think that there is a short list of best models, there is no silver bullet. To further increase the realm of protected areas and to improve its management will certainly require considerable funding, and one has to use all the funding sources I mentioned.
But much will depend on the specific ecosystem that is to be protected, the services or benefits it provides, the economic situation of the country etc. For instance, in additional to government budgets, if the protected areas provide hydrological services, payment schemes can be established accordingly. Tourism can sometimes be an important source – think about the diving industry and how they rely on marine protected areas. For ecosystem services of global importance, REDD+, for example, provides an interesting model.
Globally speaking however, the main funding challenge lies in achieving sustainable use across the entire landscape in which protected areas are embedded. The most important funding challenges are associated with shifting large economic sectors – particularly agriculture – towards sustainability.
Mongabay: In terms of implementation, will there be standards set at the international level or will it be up to national partners to come up with their own plans?
Elizabeth Mrema: The global biodiversity framework will not set standards as such, but it is expected to set overarching goals and targets, and also outline the general implementation support mechanisms and enabling conditions. It will be up to the national governments (in collaboration with partners) to establish, within their revised/updated national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs), national targets and actions to contribute to the achievement of the global goals and targets. In other words, the NBSAPs are the standard planning tools and policy instruments that will be used to translate the overarching global goals and targets into concrete results at the national level. The Secretariat will provide updated guidance to enable governments to improve the quality and effectiveness of the NBSAPs.
Mongabay: Besides the pandemic, one of the biggest areas of attention over the past year has been around social justice. In the conservation context, some institutions in the sector have been wrestling with lack of inclusivity; past injustices, especially around the creation of protected areas; and racism. How are these issues playing out in terms of CBD discussions and processes?
Elizabeth Mrema: The CBD has a long-standing history of openness and inclusiveness. Stakeholders actively engage in the processes of the Convention, including women, youth, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and many others. Parties to the Convention listen to what they have to say.
Under the Convention, the importance of the role and rights of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) has been recognized. The Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions, established in 1998, serves to enhance the role and involvement of IPLCs in the achievement of the Convention’s objectives. Through Article 8(j), Parties resolve to respect, preserve and maintain the knowledge, innovations, and practices of IPLCs to encourage equitable sharing of benefits arising out of biodiversity.
Under this body, issues related to social justice, equity, equality and human rights are regularly addressed by Parties, IPLCs, and stakeholders, including in relation to protected areas.
Many recent studies have proven that their lands, territories, and water are shelters for biodiversity[XYX]. The Convention aims to ensure an authentic dialogue between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge. Article 8j and the Nagoya Protocol establish that third parties obtain IPLCs prior informed consent to access a genetic resource associated with traditional knowledge.
At the local level, IPLCs are developing protocols that describe how consultations occur. This process empowers them and provides security to third parties who wish to access their traditional knowledge. Vulnerable groups are often the most dependent on healthy ecosystems for their wellbeing and livelihoods. But they are also the source of solutions. When they feel included, they become important allies in implementing actions on the ground.
Mongabay: There’s already some pushback against 30×30 from Indigenous rights groups who worry about it becoming a land grab. How does one make sure the implementation of these targets is done collaboratively with Indigenous communities and take the subsistence needs of local populations into consideration?
Elizabeth Mrema: Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) play a fundamental role in all objectives of the Convention. Today, we have more official reports and scientific studies that provide evidence of their key role in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. For example, the IPBES Global Assessment describes indigenous peoples and local communities’ traditional lands and waters as islands of biodiversity in a sea of graded ecosystems. The second edition of the Local Biodiversity Outlooks, which complements the fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook, describes their actions and contributions to protect nature with local and concrete examples.
The post-2020 global biodiversity framework process is both an inclusive, participatory process, and a Party-led process. The global biodiversity framework process is an opportunity for us, as humanity, to come together at a critical time for nature, and accelerate all efforts to develop and agree upon its goals and targets. The process and negotiation are guided by the vision: living in harmony with nature by 2050.
IPLCs are active participants in this process. The Secretariat, which provides logistic support to the post-2020 framework process in general, remains in almost daily contact with them and stakeholders to identify opportunities for input, dialogue and capacity building, throughout the process. The Secretariat remains committed to the effective participation of IPLCs in the post 2020 framework process. Their voice and aspiration are fundamental in successfully implementing the new framework.
Mongabay: Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to follow in your footsteps?
Elizabeth Mrema: I commend anyone who chooses a career path in biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, especially young women, your views and voices and skills and talents are needed and very welcome.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of gaining a good education in environmental science and related fields, in preparation for a career in the biodiversity domain. Having a solid knowledge base and understanding of key issues will enable you to make valuable contributions, as scientific experts, policy makers and leaders in this field.
My advice is to take as many opportunities as you can to gain experience and skills in different areas – in particular, taking part in project implementation at local levels in different settings will allow you to see the realities of what it means to make real change on the ground.
The challenges and opportunities in implementing projects at national, regional and international levels also provide different levels of insight and skill-building. Experiences that allow the opportunity to work with people from different cultures are increasingly important as the boundaries between countries and regions continue to shrink in our ever more globalized world.
Having an understanding of biodiversity issues in different parts of the world, and the norms and standards that guide how people work with each other in different cultures are instrumental in learning how to work effectively with all kinds of people, which a career in biodiversity often entails.
To young women entering this field I would also say you need to recognize your own worth and remember that there is value in you being at the table and sharing your views. The different experiences you gain – both good and bad – are instructive and can provide valuable skills for working in areas of biodiversity policy as well as project implementation. They can also help to make you a more well-rounded human being!
Mongabay: What would you say to young people who are distressed about the current trajectory of the planet?
Elizabeth Mrema: Young people are prone to feel ecological anxiety or eco-anxiety, especially when you consider that they are growing up in an era where the world faces a triple crisis – climate, biodiversity and health. They are fully aware of the impacts of environmental degradation has on their lives and they wonder if they will benefit from a healthy planet when they become adults. They want to know if their generation, and future generations, will have access to clean air, water, food, medicine and all the other benefits provided by biodiversity and ecosystems. They want to see actions taken that ensure this.
Fortunately, young people are taking an active role in the process to develop the post-2020 framework. As delegates in observer organizations admitted to meetings, including the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, they have expressed their views and priorities on the issues being discussed. The quality and insight of their interventions has been extremely impressive, and it is being heard by all Parties.
Around the world, young people are campaigning for action on climate and to stop destruction of the natural world, which in many countries has an important role in influencing public opinion and government policy. Young people are implementing projects for biodiversity in their communities, demonstrating that they can walk the talk, contributing to scientific research and discoveries, and using their technological and influencer skills to raise awareness on critical issues. And with the ongoing pandemic, they are putting forward strong and creative ideas to build back better and replace current destructive patterns by sustainable practices. The voices of young people are being heard! I invite all young people to join these efforts. You can do so by joining the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and participating in their consultations and trainings about the CBD and the post-2020 framework.
Let’s continue to have an intergenerational conversation and let’s implement solutions together for the benefit of the planet, and to ensure the mental and physical well-being of present and future generations.