As we celebrate the World Environment Day this year, it bears repeating that the world is in the midst of an extinction crisis. Asia and the Pacific sees the most rapid and serious decline in biodiversity-related ecosystem services.
However, the momentum for multi-actor engagement to address the biodiversity crisis is building. Target 22 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework highlights the crucial element of full, equitable, inclusive, effective and gender-responsive representation and participation in decision-making. Last year, a UN General Assembly resolution had already recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This resolution followed the recognition of this right by the Human Rights Council in October 2021, an unprecedented decision. These resolutions send a powerful message.
When we take a closer look into our region, we find that only 24 countries in Asia-Pacific recognize the right to a healthy environment in their constitutional provisions and 17 countries still do not have any constitutional or legal recognition of this right.
Environmental rights, including both substantive rights and procedural rights, are necessary to build back biodiversity. Substantive rights include clean air, a safe climate, healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, safe and sufficient water, healthy and sustainable food, and a non-toxic environment. Procedural rights, or access rights encompassing access to information, public participation, and access to justice, are enshrined in Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which states that environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens; and that each individual shall have appropriate access to information, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.
In collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), ESCAP is supporting the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, to develop a regional instrument on environmental rights. The Aarhus Convention and the Escazú Agreement provide inspiration for the frameworks we must build in Asia and the Pacific.
Second, the biodiversity footprint of food systems requires multi-actor and stakeholder perspectives to address the drivers of biodiversity loss in food systems. Changes are needed across the supply chain, market and trade policy and incentives, and to consumption patterns. We need to work with farmers to manage risks associated with transitioning to more sustainable methods, facilitate access to safe and effective inputs, and support the right research partnerships, among other actions.
Source: ESCAP (2021) based on data from Poore and Nemecek (2018)
Third, it is essential to redouble efforts on mainstreaming biodiversity across sectors.
ESCAP’s work with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) points out that One Health mechanisms can synergize action on biodiversity, safe and sustainable food systems and human health. A review of 15 national biodiversity strategies and action plans (NBSAPs) in Asia and the Pacific shows that more than half have at least one national biodiversity target related to health and well-being, but only six note collaboration with a ministry of health. Only two countries discussed zoonoses and only three referenced health or balanced diets. Our Operationalizing the environment-health nexus report with IISD shows how NBSAPs can explicitly support health goals.
Source: ESCAP and IISD (2022) Operationalizing the Environment Health Nexus in Asia and the Pacific: A Policy Guide on Opportunities for Enhancing Health, Biodiversity, Food System and Climate Action
National net zero carbon goals are also an important platform for change. ESCAP’s research shows that most countries have mitigation targets that reference nature-based solutions, but only 14 quantify targets for emissions reduced via nature-based solutions, and only 16 have mentioned ecosystem other than forests in the context of mitigation.
Fourth, we must address financing and recognize that better financing needs better governance. Financing for nature-based solutions and biodiversity conservation and sustainable use is contested and limited. Target 19 of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework underlines the need for financing from diverse sources and the need to enhance “the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of resource provision and use.” Local communities and indigenous peoples must be considered key partners and co-investors of time, of knowledge, and of potential opportunity costs.
Delivering on Target 19 requires strategic, values-based, and transparent engagement with investors and local communities and indigenous people, but also with those entities that benefit from biodiversity-linked ecosystem services – hydropower energy producers, water utilities, beverage producers and tourism operators for example. Effective mechanisms that re-balance the power imbalances, facilitate scaling up of small investments, and operate transparently, are needed.
Multi-actor engagement is essential for progress on mobilizing resources, aligning policy agendas and strengthening social accountability. Let us celebrate this World Environment Day through individual and collective action, to protect our planet.