Newsletter of the
INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FORUM
Volume 23, Number 3 --- 15 March 2021
Article submission: firstname.lastname@example.org Deadline next issue 10 April 2021
Secretariat Email: email@example.com Christine Muller General Secretary
Postal address: 12B Chemin de Maisonneuve, CH-1219 Chatelaine, Geneva, Switzerland
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From the Editor, Request for information for upcoming newsletters
This newsletter is an opportunity for IEF members to share their experiences, activities, and initiatives that are taking place at the community level on environment, climate change and sustainability. All members are welcome to contribute information about related activities, upcoming conferences, news from like-minded organizations, recommended websites, book reviews, etc. Please send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Welcome to the IEF March Newsletter
Biodiversity is a recurring theme in this newsletter. Look out for the newly released IEF Statement on Biodiversity on p. , the Baha'i Perspectives on the Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity on p. , and at the very end, you will find a link to the new Factsheet: Achieving the SDGs with Biodiversity.
Two new reports by UNEP deserve special attention: The holistic approach in Making Peace With Nature on p. facilitates a deeper understanding of the state of our world which is so important for meaningful action. We are especially excited about the GEO-6 for Youth on p. whose interactive features and accessible language make it attractive for all age groups and especially for youth for whom such essential materials have not been available until now.
At the past IEF lectures, participation and discussions have been great! Thank you, Khela Baskett, for organizing them! We hope to see many of you at the fourth IEF lecture on March 27!
IEF Lecture Webinars
by IEF Member Khela Baskett, IEF webinar coordinator
4th IEF Lecture
Discourse: A Baha’i Perspective with Stephen Friberg, PhD
Saturday, March 27th 2021
2pm EDT (New York), 18:00 GMT (UK), 19:00 CET (Europe), 22:30 IST (New Delhi)
To all those in the US: Please, note the change of starting time because of Daylight Savings Time.
The Universal House of Justice has asked the Baha'i community to engage in the discourses of society. Discourse, along with social action, is one of the ways that we can apply good and transformative ideas to change and improve society. It is the action component of our activities and where the rubber hits the road for learning and being involved in our communities, towns, places of work, and our professional spaces. What is discourse, why are we being asked to participate in it, and how do we do it? This presentation and discussion will address these questions, with a focus on discourse applied to environmental issues.
Future & Past Webinars:
5th IEF Lecture
Deforestation – interconnected Causes and Solutions with Michael Richards
Saturday, April 24th 2021
1pm EDT (New York), 18:00 GMT (UK), 19:00 CET (Europe), 22:30 IST (New Delhi)
Registration & Information: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYrcOCvpzoiHtbYIA_gdCWMGGnzbtuOQYct
Last month’s webinar, “Building Capacity in Undergraduate Engineering Students to Deal with Climate Change” with Professor Rafael Amaral Shayani is now posted on the IEF webinar playlist: https://tinyurl.com/7p09o73q
We warmly welcome the following new members and associates to the International Environment Forum:
- New Members
Yotam Malifa Cheketa, Malawi
Daniel Pierce Olam, Australia
Zarin Hainsworth, UK
Samantha Scott, Canada
Tracy Gee, The Netherlands
Pat Eelman, USA
R. Wade Schuette, USA
- Julia Sears-Hartley, USA
Oladoja Victor A., Nigeria
Sikiru Abdulganiyu Siyanbola, Nigeria
Mfoniso James Udo, Nigeria
Airina Kumar, India
Pankaj Jangid, India
Mukesh S Shukla, India
Nifemi Bunmi Ogunrinde, Nigeria
Dr. Praveen Dimri, India
We look forward to getting to know you better and invite your active participation with IEF!
IEF Statement on Biodiversity
In 2021, world leaders are focusing on the biodiversity crisis. Throughout the year, many conferences will be held in all parts of the world culminating in the 15th United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, also known as COP 15, which will take place in Kunming, China. It is expected that about 200 countries will sign on to a legally binding set of global targets to protect the world’s biodiversity.
As a contribution to the public discourse about biodiversity, the International Environment Forum has prepared a statement on the “Ethical Commitment to Protect Nature and its Biodiversity.” The statement briefly highlights the vital importance of biodiversity, and calls for an ethical commitment to protect it.
Ethical Commitment to Protect Nature and its Biodiversity
A Statement from the International Environment Forum, 1 March 2021
Diversity in nature is important on many levels. A biologically diverse system is essential to all life. In addition, the rich diversity of plants and animals has profound cultural and spiritual significance. This statement briefly highlights the importance of biodiversity for these different levels of reality and calls for an ethical commitment to protect it.
Earth is the only planet we know of where life has evolved to facilitate multiple living systems. The conditions of temperature, gravity, distance to the sun, atmosphere and the presence of water, led to life appearing on the planet approximately 3.7 billion years ago, only about 1 billion years after the planet was formed (1). First in the oceans and then on land, through many crises and rebounds, lifeforms multiplied in number, shape, function and complexity, at the molecular, cellular, organism, population, community and ecosystem levels. Through this complex evolutionary process, cooperation and reciprocity developed in diverse ecosystems adapting to the various geographic and climatic conditions. Each area of the Earth, from the air, oceans, land, soil and subsoil, even the most hostile environments such as volcanic vents, hot or cold deserts, deep ocean sediments or the extreme cold of the poles, has been colonised by some form of life. The resulting biological diversity is a unique treasure to be valued and protected.
In the evolutionary process, humans have gradually but increasingly emerged as the dominant species, resulting in a significant impact on the environment (2). Especially since the industrial revolution, our extraction of the earth’s resources for food, materials and energy, new technologies, as well as exponential population growth, have pushed the physical environment beyond its planetary boundaries. The raw materials extracted from the living and non-living resources for our use can no longer be renewed, and our growing emissions of greenhouse gases are disrupting the climate stability thus threatening our future and that of countless other species. With our failure to respect the natural cycles of materials, waste accumulates, resulting in soil, water and air pollution. Our unsustainable use of land has destroyed or fragmented many natural habitats, which combined with other threats is driving many species and their ecosystems to collapse and extinction (3). As the recent UN Human Development Report indicates “Though humanity has achieved incredible progress, we have taken the Earth for granted, destabilizing the very systems upon which we rely for survival” (4). In addition, species extinction is accelerating at an unprecedented rate with a million species of plant, animals and microorganisms at risk (5).
Given that many human activities are degrading nature, threatening the diversity of life and causing the extinction of species and collapse of ecosystems, what is our moral and ethical responsibility towards the environment on which all life depends, including our own? Humankind could certainly deploy its high intelligence and its spiritual capacities of free will and moral choice to safeguard a livable future on this planet.
The living world is absolutely essential for human life. We depend on healthy ecosystems for clean air and water, soil fertility and food production, for regulating climate as well as for profound cultural meaning. Awareness is growing of the extent to which life support systems depend on the diversity of life adapted to the various local conditions and climates on earth. Many reports at the local to global levels, such as the Global Biodiversity Outlook (6), the new framework for action of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Global Biodiversity Assessment illustrate this point (7). The recent Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity further underscores the reality of human dependence on nature. (8)
We need to fundamentally re-examine our relationship with nature, not just as individuals, but as a collective human community that relies on the earth systems for our survival. It is time to seriously consider ecology and economy in symbiosis (9). Respect for nature was and is inherent in Indigenous cultures around the world, but the modern world largely ignores that humans are a part of and integral to nature (10). Some recent efforts for conservation tend to separate human society from the “natural” world rather than recognize the interdependence of all life.
The current health crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic can be seen as another wake up call for much needed transformation. It has also highlighted the fragility and interdependence of our health, economic, social and political systems at local, national and global levels.
In our view, the needed transformation will not be achievable without addressing fundamental questions that are philosophical, even spiritual, in nature: What is the place of humans in the universe? What is the purpose of humans on this planet? What are the root causes of these crises and thus where should we direct our attention to achieve transformational changes?
Material and economic development has provided welcome progress for many people, but also resulted in rampant materialism and consumerism which are at the root of the environmental crisis. It has also left far too many people in abject poverty. We need to apply spiritual values such as humility, moderation, justice, respect and cooperation, if we want to shift to a sustainable and just mode of functioning in our societies for us and all life on this planet.
The teachings of the Baha’i Faith help us appreciate the value of moderation in all things and call for balance between material and spiritual civilization, between reason and faith, between science and religion. Like two wings of a bird, both should develop concomitantly. The Baha’i Writings state:
“Material civilization is like unto the lamp, while spiritual civilization is the light in that lamp. If the material and spiritual civilization become united, then we will have the light and the lamp together, and the outcome will be perfect. For material civilization is like unto a beautiful body, and spiritual civilization is like unto the spirit of life. If that wondrous spirit of life enters this beautiful body, the body will become a channel for the distribution and development of the perfections of humanity” (11).
Likewise, Baha'u'llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha'i Faith, warned more than a hundred years ago about the hazards of material civilization to our planet:
"The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.... If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation..." (12)
Understanding and integrating the principles guiding our relationship with the natural world and with our fellow brothers and sisters is very important, but even more important is our capacity to bring about change through deeds. Change needs to take place at every level: Global, national, regional, community, individual, and indeed most importantly in the human heart.
Many movements are attempting to raise awareness about the urgency of the problem. Indigenous Peoples and local communities already play an important role in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity as they manage 35% of all land with low human impact that contains up to 80% of the world’s biodiversity (13) and they also increasingly make their voice heard in global biodiversity governance (14). Under the framework of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (15), many countries have increased the size and number of protected areas (16). Recent global initiatives including the UN Summit on Biodiversity in September 2020 (17), where leaders pledged to protect nature (18), the One Planet summit (19), the Faith4Earth Initiative (20), the Biodiversity Faith Call to Action (21), and other initiatives have fostered action at the individual and community levels. For example, there are some efforts to shift from intensive agriculture and industrial food production to a more sustainable agriculture respectful of soil and water, and that encourage the development of urban organic farming or community gardens (22). There are efforts at re-wilding where some areas are given back to nature for the benefit of a diversity of local forms of life, and also for visitors who can appreciate, learn and benefit for their health (23). These initiatives are commendable but still insufficient in number and in scale. In addition, much progress is still needed in recognizing the rights of indigenous communities to their forests, land and water. This is not only a matter of basic human rights, but has also proven to be very effective at protecting local ecosystems, the climate, and biodiversity (24).
Beyond the vital necessity of biodiversity for the web of life, there is intrinsic value in each plant and animal species. Baha'u'llah wrote that “Nature is God's Will” and that there is profound spiritual significance in the diversity of life (25).
Human aspirations for equality and justice, for clean air and water, for healthy food and other bounties of nature should be seen as part of a unified whole. Only when we see that the spiritual, social and physical environments of man are interdependent can we develop a sustainable approach. When we combine individual responsibility and community action with regional, national and international efforts, we can take a significant leap forward to ensure a sustainable path for humanity and the diversity of life on planet Earth.
The References for the IEF Statement on Biodiversity are on the IEF website: https://www.iefworld.org/IEFbiodiversity
Up-coming April Events
22 April is Earth Day, and there will be many opportunities for individuals and communities to initiate or support meaningful actions for the environment. In its 13 March 2021 letter to the American Baha'i community, the US National Spiritual Assembly emphasizes the importance of participation and unity: “It is clear that tackling the pressing issues of our age—from climate change to economic inequality to racial prejudice—will require increasing levels of unity among individuals from all walks of life and involvement from all members of society.” The letter mentions the opportunities of hosting an event to coincide with Faith Climate Action Week or to participate in the Wilmette Institute Climate Change course. Here is more information about these two fields of action:
Faith Climate Action Week
Interfaith Power and Light encourages all faith communities in the US to take action to protect our climate, specifically also during Faith Climate Action Week which is taking place April 16 – 25. This year's theme is Sacred Ground: Cultivating Connections between our Faith, our Food, and the Climate. IPL's website rightly points out that “How we grow our food largely determines how we treat the world, and one another.”
Wilmette Institute Climate Change Course begins on 8 April
The 8-week Climate Change Course of the Wilmette Institute will begin on 8 April. You can register here: https://wilmetteinstitute.org/courses/climate-change/
Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It has far-reaching implications for our efforts to relieve poverty, to establish and maintain peace, and for the economy. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has said “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change." “It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation. Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”
Many climate-change related natural disasters such as more devastating storms, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, as well as heavy downpours, floods, and mud slides have already caused much human suffering and economic loss. Many plant and animal species cannot survive the rising temperature, and the Earth's natural systems, on which humans depend, are at risk. Rising sea levels threaten low-lying coastal areas all over the world, including large coastal cities. Many millions of people will become refugees. The threat of climate change to us, our children and grandchildren is immense and its long-term consequences are unprecedented in human history. The people who suffer first and the most from the impacts of climate change are the poor, people of color, and indigenous people, while the rich people of the world are most responsible. Therefore, climate change is an issue of justice. At the same time, many people are confused, because climate change is a complex issue and because political and vested interests have shed false doubts about climate science.
This course on Climate Change provides a basic understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, discusses its ethical challenges, and relates them to the spiritual teachings of the world’s religions, particularly those of the Baha’i Faith. It will help you consider changes in your lifestyle to bring greater coherence to your life and show you how to incorporate environmental and social responsibility in your community gatherings. It elevates public discourse above partisan politics by introducing spiritual responses to the climate crisis and demonstrates how the harmony of science and religion can be applied for the well-being of humankind.
The course, which is open to people of all, or no, religious backgrounds, includes many optional resources for those who wish to delve more deeply into climate-change issues.
The course faculty Christine Muller, Arthur Dahl, and Laurent Mesbah are all IEF members.
The Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity in a Bahá’í perspective
Commentary by Arthur Dahl
In the February issue of the IEF Newsletter, we covered The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review by providing a brief summary of this important document which was published by the UK Government on 2 February 2021. The commentary below highlights the spiritual connections which are fundamentally important for protecting biodiversity.
The Dasgupta Review on The Economics of Biodiversity is a very useful addition to the munitions available to us to push for the necessary fundamental transformation in society towards sustainability. Just as the Stern Review put climate change in a language that economists understand, Professor Dasgupta has done the same for biodiversity. It is for us to leverage this with policy makers and the private sector for whom economics, especially the neoliberal version, is the only reality. This will require the efforts of many actors beyond the conservation community itself, including the religions and faith traditions such as the Bahá’í Faith.
The report makes a number of important statements that resonate with the Bahá’í community, starting with the acknowledgement that we are part of nature. The Bahá’í writings are full of references to the importance of nature, not only in describing the ecological functions of the natural world, the interdependence of all living things, and the importance of cooperation and reciprocity as emergent properties in the evolution of complexity. The son of the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, said in a talk at Stanford University in 1912: “The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life. Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection?”
The importance of nature is more than practical. As the report acknowledges, nature is also intrinsically valuable in itself, and contact with nature has psychological and spiritual benefits. The final chapter in the abridged version is on “Nature’s Intrinsic Worth: Sacredness”. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said: “The country is the world of the soul, the city is the world of bodies.” We can discover so much in nature about the qualities of God or the divine, wonders greater than ourselves, and our own higher human potential. This transcendent dimension of nature is found in most cultures apart from the materialist economic culture of today, and we need to return to it in all its cultural diversity to restore our respect for the natural world and to motivate us to protect and restore it.
While diversity has long been recognized as important in ecological science, and in the Bahá’í appreciation of human as well as natural diversity, the report demonstrates the equal importance of diversity in economic terms. Every loss of a species or erosion of an ecosystem makes nature more fragile and constrains future generations.
The Dasgupta Review identifies three broad transitions that are necessary.
1. Balancing demand and supply
The first transition identified in the review is that demands do not exceed supply. We have failed to engage with nature or to manage its assets sustainably, with what it calls impact inequality, endangering the prosperity of present and future generations. On the supply side, this requires restoring natural assets and increasing the supply if possible, but it will take time to reverse all the damaging activities that have driven us to the brink of collapse. There are also planetary limits to supply that have to be respected. Bahá’u’lláh warned that “The civilization, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.” Our material development must be moderated.
There is less talk about the demand side, yet that is where the most immediate possibilities for action reside, and where the Bahá’í approach is particularly relevant. Bahá’u’lláh said we should be content with little, and “Take from this world only to the measure of your needs, and forego that which exceedeth them.” This is far from today’s consumer culture fed by an endless cultivation of material desires. The science shows that most environmental impact comes from the affluent, and only a reduction in the GDP of the wealthiest countries will enable us to reach climate and biodiversity goals. This is not a message that economists and politicians want to hear. We know that happiness does not increase with wealth once basic needs are met, and there are ample opportunities for growth in non-material aspects of life like sciences, arts, culture, human relationships and living a life of service. The Bahá’í Faith calls for eliminating the extremes of wealth and poverty through an equitable distribution of resources, far from the growing inequality we see in the world today, aggravated by the pandemic and increasing climate impacts.
2. Changing measures of economic success
Dasgupta’s critique of the narrow focus of economics ignoring social and environmental “externalities”, emphasizing short-term profits and financial flows while failing to consider what is happening to capital accounts, especially natural capital, and assuming that technology will resolve every problem, corresponds to the Bahá’í warning about dogmatic materialism, which, having penetrated and captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, has ensured that no competing voices would retain the ability to challenge projects of world wide economic exploitation.
As the international governing council of the Bahá’í Faith has put it:
“The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity's collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbours' or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected. A stubborn obstruction, then, stands in the way of meaningful social progress: time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good. Unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed, and the instability this creates is made worse by how income and opportunity are spread so unevenly both between nations and within nations. But it need not be so. However much such conditions are the outcome of history, they do not have to define the future, and even if current approaches to economic life satisfied humanity's stage of adolescence, they are certainly inadequate for its dawning age of maturity. There is no justification for continuing to perpetuate structures, rules, and systems that manifestly fail to serve the interests of all peoples….
“There is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources. The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt within international relations as much as in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds. The vision of Bahá'u'lláh challenges many of the assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse—for instance, that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá'í thought. But neither are the teachings in sympathy with sweeping dismissals of wealth as inherently distasteful or immoral, and asceticism is prohibited. Wealth must serve humanity. Its use must accord with spiritual principles; systems must be created in their light. And, in Bahá'u'lláh's memorable words, ‘No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.’" (Universal House of Justice, To the Baha’is of the World, 1 March 2017)
3. Transforming institutions and systems
The review’s call for polycentric institutions from the local to the global level is similar to the Bahá’í system of administration, with local, national and global elected consultative bodies, ensuring global coherence while allowing for a great diversity of applications depending on local conditions, and ensuring participation and empowerment even at the local community level.
The report also calls for supranational institutional arrangements for global public goods. The climate, atmosphere and open oceans are obviously environmental components that require global governance, and perhaps the creation of charges or rents for global use. Even natural resources like forests that are within national jurisdictions need to be managed from a global perspective, with the review proposing payments for protecting ecosystems when this is in the global interest.
The Bahá’í Faith has always acknowledged that the Earth is a single global system, the home of humanity, requiring that we accept our oneness as citizens of one homeland above our lesser loyalties to nation or group. It has called for a federation of nations with collective security and legislative, executive and judicial institutions able to organize, manage and equitably distribute the planet’s resources, while safeguarding the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of every individual.
Such ambitious proposals also require a massive effort in education to build public support and participation, again an area where the faiths have enormous reach and influence. One dimension of this must be to reconnect people with nature, counteracting the present trend towards increasing urbanization.
The review concludes that transformative change is possible, but will require hard choices. For Bahá’ís, those choices will be easier when motivated by spiritual values of the oneness of humankind, humility, moderation, generosity, solidarity, and the hopeful vision of the ever-advancing planetary civilization that can emerge from this age of transition.
To access The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-the-economics-o…
The Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker
Webinar recording available
The Wilmette Institute 21 February webinar with IEF member Paul Hanley was recorded and is now here: https://wilmetteinstitute.org/the-man-of-the-trees/ The video is 1h 18min. long.
Dr. Richard St. Barbe Baker (1889-1982) was arguably the first global conservationist, blazing a trail for contemporary environmental leaders such as Jane Goodall. He began his mission to save the world’s forests in 1922, when he started the first international NGO, Men of the Trees, in Kenya. Today, this organization is living on as the International Tree Foundation.
New Children's Book Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees available
Paul Hanley just published a children's book Richard St. Barbe Baker: Child of the Trees. The IEF previously featured Paul Hanley's biography about the Man of the Trees in its October 2018 newsletter.
Education for Social Cohesion
Online International Webinar
organized by the Bahá'í Academy, Panchgani, India
13-14 February 2021
On 13-14 February 2021, the Bahá'í Academy in Panchgani, India, with which the International Environment Forum partnered for its annual conference in 2020, followed up that conference with an Online International Webinar on Education for Social Cohesion with a number of distinguished keynote speakers and presented paper sessions. The webinar was organized by IEF member Lesan Azadi, Director of the Bahá'í Academy, and IEF board member Prof. Victoria Thoresen of Norway was one of the keynote speakers. IEF member Prof. Rafael Shayani of the University of Brasilia in Brazil also presented a paper. IEF was one of the co-sponsoring organizations along with a number of universities.
Victoria Thoresen spoke on "Education for Social Cohesion" with a very clear presentation on learning - within the school, community and family - what it means to be a content and responsible citizen. She cited extensive research showing that isolation and exclusion can lead to boredom, loneliness, fear, depression and mental illness, showing the importance of relationships to build trust and a sense of well-being. We need a new culture of learning, changing the paradigm from transmissive to transformative, exploring what we value and what is human development.
She described the principles and values that direct change, such as equity and quality of life, connectivity and cohesion, transference and transmutation, empathy and adaptation, moderation and sharing, finiteness in time and place, aiming to leave no one behind. She emphasized the importance of building partnerships in a dynamic of the material and non-material for positioning of personal ideas and the community, a sense of belonging through collective visioning, creating interdependence through cooperative action, building trust and caring, and a capacity for service. Education needs to include one's heritage of customs and traditions, individual and collective aspirations, and moral codes and ethical boundaries.
UNESCO has made great efforts to rethink education to build capacities for consultation, creativity and flexibility and lifelong learning skills around the Sustainable Development Goals and their interconnections. Competencies that need to be developed include collaboration, systems thinking that is anticipatory, normative and strategic, critical thinking and integrated problem-solving. This requires innovative, inclusive learning environments, including community learning leading to action on real-world problems that is participatory, cooperative rather than competitive, addressing issues in the environmental and social systems.
She referred to the positive deviance concept to encourage uncommon behaviours, finding better solutions with the same resources to solve complex problems. As an example, she cited a study of nutrition in Vietnam, that found that the poorest of the poor were better nourished than those who were a little better off because they were forced to eat fresh local herbs as they could not afford foods that were less nourishing. This showed the advantage of leveraging community wisdom, when practical experience can be better than acquired knowledge. It is important to learn to question, criticize, find connections, identify or imagine alternatives, and then define actions. She closed by reminding us not to lose the ability to share and to be happy.
The webinar was rich in shared experience, and showed the importance of social cohesion in addressing the problems the world faces today.
Making Peace With Nature
UNEP Report February 2021
The new UNEP synthesis report is titled: “Making Peace With Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” and is based on evidence from global environmental assessments.
The report lays out the gravity of Earth’s triple environmental emergencies – climate, biodiversity loss and pollution – through a unique synthesis of findings from major global assessments, including those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook report, the UNEP International Resource Panel, and new findings on the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. The report flags the interlinkages between our environmental and development challenges and describes the roles of all parts of society in the transformations needed for a sustainable future.
The resulting synthesis communicates how climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution can be tackled jointly within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. The report serves to translate the current state of scientific knowledge into crisp, clear and digestible facts-based messages that the world can relate to and follow up on. It first provides an Earth diagnosis of current and projected human-induced environmental change, by putting facts and interlinkages in perspective, including by using smart infographics. In building on this diagnosis, the report identifies the shifts needed to close gaps between current actions and those needed to achieve sustainable development. The analysis is anchored in current economic, social and ecological reality and framed by economics and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By synthesizing the latest scientific findings from the global environmental assessments, the report communicates the current status of the world’s urgent issues and opportunities to solve them.
GEO-6 for Youth
First UNEP Report for Youth
Read UNEP's first fully interactive e-publication, GEO-6 for Youth, written by youth for youth to inform, engage, educate, and lead youth towards environmental action.
GEO-6 for Youth is a one-stop-shop for a young person to understand the state of the environment, what they can do every day to drive markets to adopt environmentally sustainable products and services and how to develop their skills and choose environmentally sustainable careers. The report provides background to help understand the issues, but most importantly shows how youth have the power to bring about transformative change for the environment. GEO-6 for Youth is UNEP’s first fully interactive e-publication and provides engaging multimedia content and interactive features to inform, engage, educate, and lead to youth action. Several case studies and interviews appear in the report, including small-scale, community-led projects and individual guides to developing the appropriate skills for green jobs and daily sustainable actions. A gender and geographically balanced team of 28 young authors from across the world worked on the report using the GEO’s co-creation model.
The report aims to:
- Translate high-level, scientific messages on the state of the environment for a youth audience (ages 15 to 24),
- Define how youth can bring about transformational change by creating and accessing environmentally sustainable jobs,
- Identify daily sustainability actions that can change market dynamics to achieve an environmentally sustainable world by 2050.
To download the interactive report on different devices, go here: https://www.unep.org/resources/geo-6-youth
You can watch a 1-minute video on GEO-6 for Youth: Your Career, Our Future here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2rXiTZ1-5Q
Source: UN Environment https://www.unep.org/resources/geo-6-youth
New Inclusive and Holistic Educational Curriculum in Pakistan
The Ministry for Federal Education and Training has created a unified nation-wide school curriculum for the first time in the 73 years history of Pakistan. It includes a curriculum for Religious Education for Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, and Kalash students.
Development of the Single National Curriculum for grade Pre1–5 has been completed under a broad-based consultative process with the engagement of experts in the field and representatives from all provinces and areas. These are some of the topics that are incorporated and not often found in such curricula: Societal values, inclusive education, human rights and child protection, environment and climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals, and respect for religious and cultural diversity.
Link to Religious Education Curriculum Grade 1-5 You can find the Baha'i Curriculum starting on p. 29
Ecosystem Accounting Takes Off
The United Nations Statistical Commission, at its 52nd Session on 1-5 March 2021, is launching Ecosystem Accounting as an extension of its System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA). This represents a significant step forward in taking national statistics beyond GDP as a measure of progress or (assumed) wellbeing. The ecosystem accounting framework includes information on ecosystem extent, ecosystem condition, ecosystem services and monetary values of ecosystem services and assets, but it does not include the value of the wider social benefits of ecosystems, including their non-use values. The following are excerpts from the introduction to the final version as presented to the Statistical Commission. Even if the system cannot capture all the values of nature, as it itself admits, every effort should be made to push for its implementation as an important step forward.
It is well established that healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are fundamental to supporting and sustaining our wellbeing, our local communities and our economies. However, our environment is under pressure and there are consequential risks that we face in securing and improving our livelihoods. These challenges have been recognised at local, national and global levels. Global responses have been articulated clearly in the Sustainable Development Goals and other global agreements such as the Paris Agreement on limiting the effects of climate change and the Global Biodiversity Framework to conserve biodiversity.
In addition, there has been growing recognition that the degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue requiring environmental policy responses. Thus, decision makers across all sectors need to consider their environmental context and the associated dependencies and impacts. Consequently, establishing agreed and ongoing measurement of changes in the state of the environment and the relationship to economic and other human activity is central to ensure that biodiversity and ecosystems are mainstreamed in decision-making processes, including those concerning our economic and financial systems.
The System of Environmental-Economic Accounting—Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) is a spatially-based, integrated statistical framework for organizing biophysical information about ecosystems, measuring ecosystem services, tracking changes in ecosystem extent and condition, valuing ecosystem services and assets and linking this information to measures of economic and human activity. It was developed by a multidisciplinary group of experts to respond to a range of policy demands and challenges with a focus on making visible the contributions of nature to the economy and people, and better recording the impacts of economic and other human activity on the environment. To this end, ecosystem accounting incorporates a wider range of benefits to people than captured in standard economic accounts and provides a structured approach to assessing the dependence and impacts of economic and human activity on the environment.
The SEEA EA complements the measurement of the relationship between the environment and the economy described in the SEEA Central Framework. The SEEA EA’s data on ecosystems can be combined with the data from the SEEA Central Framework accounts on environmental pressures, individual resource stocks and environmental responses in the form of expenditures, taxes and subsidies, to provide a comprehensive picture.
The SEEA EA applies the accounting principles of the 2008 SNA, the statistical framework for the measurement of the economy. By applying national accounting principles, the SEEA framework allows for a unique integration of environmental and economic data to support decision making. The harmonization of these data is intended to contribute to mainstreaming the use of environmental data on ecosystems in economic decision making and to supporting the use of economic data in environmental decision making.
The use of an accounting approach takes advantage of the inherent structure of accounts wherein both stocks and flows are part of a single recording system. In this context, the basic accounting principles are applied to the organisation of data in both physical and monetary terms to provide an integrated, coherent and consistent set of data. Further, the use of an accounting approach envisages comparable, regular and ongoing measurement.
Coverage and interpretation
The SEEA EA reflects the integration of the latest knowledge, methods and techniques in the measurement of ecosystems. Nonetheless, it is recognised that there are challenges in implementation and interpretation that will require ongoing attention. It is expected that the knowledge about ecosystem accounting, as well as understanding of the data sources and methods used to compile accounts, will evolve over time as a result of widespread implementation of these accounts. Consequently, as with all statistical methodology documents, it will be necessary to refine and revise it in the future and to continue the development of technical guidance and related material to support implementation and interpretation.
The SEEA EA is comprehensive in terms of its coverage of ecosystems, including all terrestrial, freshwater, marine and subterranean ecosystem realms. Further, in describing the connection between ecosystems and economic and human activity, it has a deliberate focus on ecosystem services reflecting the many direct and indirect uses of ecosystems. However, this coverage does not encompass all of the potential connections with ecosystems. Specifically, the measurement scope of the SEEA EA does not directly encompass the importance of ecosystems arising from their ongoing existence and only captures a portion of significant cultural and spiritual relationships we have with the environment.
In addition, in the context of monetary valuation, the SEEA EA applies the concept of exchange values in line with standard economic accounting principles and to support comparison to standard economic and financial data. While these values are useful in many contexts, they will not be equivalent to monetary values that incorporate the wider social benefits of ecosystems. Measurement of the economic value of these social benefits, while important, goes beyond the scope of the SEEA EA.
More generally, it is emphasised that monetary values from the accounts and the wider economic values just described will not fully reflect the importance of ecosystems for people and the economy. Assessing the importance of ecosystems will therefore require consideration of a wide range of information beyond data on the monetary value of ecosystems and their services. This will include data on the biophysical characteristics of ecosystems and data on the characteristics of the people, businesses and communities that are dependent on them.
While the SEEA EA does not incorporate all data that may be relevant in assessing the relationship between the environment and economic and human activity, it provides a structured framework for organising data that can support further analysis and place various perspectives in context.
The SEEA EA is a system conceived as an integrated, internally consistent series of accounts. Generally, the compilation of accounts in monetary terms will require the use of data in physical terms. To support interpretation, it is recommended that when monetary accounts are released, the associated data in physical terms, for example concerning changes in ecosystem extent and condition and flows of ecosystem services in physical terms, are also released. This will aid appropriate interpretation and application of the monetary data in policy and decision making. Interpretation and analysis of ecosystem accounting data will also be supported through the use of other data such as concerning environmental protection expenditure, industry value added, employment and population.
Source: System of Environmental-Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting: Final Draft, Version 5 February 2021. 350 p. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/statcom/52nd-session/documents/BG-3f-SEEA-E…
New Ecumenical and Inter-religious Guidebook:
CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, and Catholic Climate Covenant created an Ecumenical Guidebook: CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME which contains excellent resources for Catholic engagement with Earth Stewardship. One section also encourages inter-religious dialogue where you can find some quotations from other religions including the words of Baha'u'llah. (p.22)
You can download the guidebook here.
Factsheet: Achieving the SDGs with Biodiversity
Source: Future Earth February Newsletter
A new factsheet, "Achieving the SDGs with Biodiversity," prepared by the Swiss Biodiversity Forum (SCNAT) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Switzerland) is now available here. It illustrates how supporting biodiversity can contribute to the achievement of each SDG. It also stresses that biodiversity needs to be mainstreamed into all policy areas.
Updated 15 March 2021