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Opinion

It’s Time to Reimagine Our Relationship with Nature

The writer is Global Campaign Lead, Food and Forests, Greenpeace International
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The following Oped is part of a series of articles to commemorate World Environment Day June 5

Greenpeace Brazil activists have joined forces with Munduruku Indigenous leaders to protest the Brazilian government's plans to build a mega dam on the Tapajós river, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in the Pará state. Credit: Rogério Assis / Greenpeace

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands, May 31 2021 (IPS) - Our natural earth is dying. It is on the brink of collapse.

Due to human impacts the planet is losing species – its biodiversity – at a rate so alarming it’s said to be comparable to the 5th mass extinction 65 million years ago, bringing the era of the dinosaurs to an end. Just 15% of the world’s forests remain intact, and only 3% of the world’s oceans are free from human pressures.

Intertwined with the biodiversity crisis, the climate crisis exacerbates species loss and social inequality, threatening the safety of our communities and our planet. Governments must work fast to stop the climate crisis in its tracks, and work with Indigeneous peoples and local communities to protect and restore nature.

Business-as-usual backed by polluted politics and corporate greed is holding us all to ransom. The same destructive systems that are stripping our forests and oceans of life are killing environmental defenders and pushing people into peril.

To balance our relationship with nature, we need governments to push back corporate interests and place people’s needs at the centre of future policies. This needs systemic changes in the way we relate to nature: a shift in how we produce and consume and how we operate our economies.

Savio Carvalho

This year’s meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) offers an opportunity for governments to help humanity balance it’s relationship with nature. To live in “harmony with nature”, as the CBD vision states, we must listen to those communities who have been depending on it for generations. Indigenous Peoples and other local communities must be heard and supported, their rights fully respected and protected.

11-24 October 2021, in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.

We’ve seen over and over how local communities are instrumental in protecting our planet against corporate greed. In Mexico’s Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, local communities secured legal protection and are reviving marine life and livelihoods. Studies from Brazil show that the most effective way to safeguard forest and biodiversity in the Amazon is to provide Indigenous people with the legal rights and instruments to defend their territories from encroachment, invasion and exploitation.

It’s time to move beyond “fortress conservation” – an antiquated and colonial approach to nature protection that has led to the eviction of Indigenous peoples and local communities of their ancestral lands, human rights violations, and outright atrocities.

Instead, Greenpeace is calling for an ambitious plan to protect and restore nature – a commitment to bold targets that protect at least 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030 – made in partnership with not against local and Indigenous communities.

For the CBD to succeed rights-based conservation must be an indispensable prerequisite, enshrined in it’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework. They must ensure local and Indigenous rights to land, and leadership in planning and managing protected areas. And provide robust legal instruments to defend these rights.

Deforested area Amazon. Credit: Daniel Beltrá / Greenpeace

Governments must also cut out dirty industries such as fossil fuel, forestry, and big agricultural companies from attempts to co-opt nature protection as a substitute for real emission reductions. Known as ‘offsetting, this approach is not only bad for our climate, but also puts a massive burden on those marginalised communities most affected by climate change.

As part of such offset schemes frontline communities often lose access to forests which are deeply connected to their lives and culture. They also provide them with food, medicine and income from non-timber forest products, getting a ridiculous amount of money in return.

In other cases, they lose access to land they rely on for food production, as it is being occupied by large corporations for planting monoculture tree plantations. All that for an often bogus and always uncertain reduction in emissions from land use, or increased sink capacities from ecosystem restoration.

We need widespread vigilance against insidious greenwashing tactics, and an unwavering commitment to cut emissions at their source, enforced by strict regulation. Partial measures to solve the climate crisis only serve as tactics that block necessary progress towards the protection of biodiversity and the 1.5oC Paris goal.

It’s imperative that governments protect nature and people and not let the fossil fuel industry hijack the agenda via their dirty lobbying and advertising tricks. Governments also need to ensure that COVID recovery must in no way cause more harm by investing or expanding in fossil fuel companies.

The worst-case outcome of land protection targets would be a rush for offset or other greenwashing projects that allow states and corporations with large greenhouse gas emissions to retain their unsustainable business model by investing in top-down managed protected areas.

This would further exacerbate social injustice, infringe rights, and undermine dignity and avenues for prosperity for local and Indigenous communities. This neo-colonialism must not be allowed to happen.

It’s time to act. Governments must recognise the urgency of the interconnected crises of climate and biodiversity and promote a shift of power that restores justice, and acknowledges and enables local communities to continue as the guardians of nature.

If nature disappears, our planet, our health, wellbeing and even our lives will disappear with it. Protecting nature is the only way to protect ourselves.

 


  
 
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