The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), celebrated its 25th anniversary in November 2018. Delegates representing 195 governments and the European Union, indigenous peoples, youth, academia, civil society organizations and faith groups, gathered in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, for the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention, 17th to 29th November, under the theme “Investing in biodiversity for people and planet”.
Weeks before the conference, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), had released the “Living Planet Report 2018”. The report paints a bleak picture of the state of the world’s biodiversity. A fifth of the Amazon has disappeared in the last 50 years. On average, populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, have declined by 60 percent. In the last 30 years, the earth has lost about half of its shallow water corals. The report cites the overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion as the main drivers of biodiversity decline.
Pope Francis, in the Encyclical Laudato Si’, describes the situation thus: “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” (LS.33). In 2001, Pope John Paul II had observed that, “Man, especially in our time, has without hesitation devastated wooded plains and valleys, polluted waters, disfigured the earth’s habitat, made the air unbreathable, disturbed the hydrogeological and atmospheric systems, turned luxuriant areas into deserts and undertaken forms of unrestrained industrialization, degrading that “flowerbed” – to use an image from Dante Alighieri (Paradiso, XXII, 151) – which is the earth, our dwelling-place.”
African Ecological Futures
The CYNESA delegation at COP14 keenly followed proceedings – official negotiation sessions- but also key side events on important topics, especially those with a bearing on the African continent. How can decision makers on the African continent strike a proper balance between economic growth, poverty reduction efforts; and ensuring ecological integrity and Africa’s important natural assets are well managed?
WWF and the African Development Bank, sought to provide some guiding principles to this and other questions, in the “African Ecological Futures” 2015 report. What stood out for me at the WWF side event focussing on the African Ecological Futures, was not only the repeated mention of young people as an asset, but also their presence and robust participation and active interventions during the session.
African youth are the present, but any preparation for the future without them, is pointless. However, the need for proper formation of the young is critical. “We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life”, says Pope Francis in Laudato Si. The African Ecological Futures recognizes the indispensable role of Community Based Organizations: “Community Based Organisations are the vehicles for collective community action and articulation of their interests, and as such are critical for enabling local stewardship of ecological resources by the people who most directly depend upon them.”
Faith communities in Africa are finely intertwined in the fabric of day to day lives of their people. The capacity of faith leaders in matters biodiversity and care of creation in general needs to be enhanced. They need to be at the table where decisions are made and to offer their unique spiritual contribution to help halt the loss of biodiversity. Perhaps we will see more faith participation, not only at COP15, but locally too.
*CYNESA’s participation at COP14 was made possible by the generous support of WWF Africa.
CYNESA Founder- Executive Director.