Fixing Planet Earth?

by Rich Howorth Designation Sustainability UNESCO

The media assail us daily with articles about the risks to our planet’s environment and our human ability to maintain healthy, fulfilling and productive lives.

Threats such as growing poverty, lack of education, vestigial health services, shortage of clean water and sanitation regularly feature, together with the effects of climate change on rural and urban communities alike through greater storminess, rising sea levels and drought. Biodiversity is threatened worldwide by such changes alongside deforestation, overexploitation on land and in our seas, the spread of invasive species and pollution. The recent hugely publicised impacts of trash, especially plastics in our Oceans and seas, has drawn our attention to a new, devastating and escalating dimension in our relationship with the natural world.

Pole and Tuna Line catching in Asia

Such matters have to be tackled on a global scale and require an organisation with a global reach. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), sets out a bold new framework for development cooperation over the next 15 years. These SDGs aim to ensure prosperity and well-being of all women and men, while protecting our planet and strengthening the foundations for peace.

Sustainable Development Goals

UNESCO is a critical body that, along with other UN agencies, is addressing these concerns and contributes significantly to nine of the SDGs through an integrated approach, drawing on all of its areas of specialised expertise and in close partnership with other UN entities and partners from the public and private sectors.

The nine focal SDGs for UNESCO are:

4 – Quality Education
5 – Gender Equality
6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (strengthening the science base)
11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
13 – Climate Action (mitigation and adaption policies)
14 – Life below Water (understanding protecting and managing our Oceans)
15 – Life on Land (protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and management of natural resources)
16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), with its aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments, could not be more central to tackling several of these goals. This is especially the case for SDG15 ‘Life on Land’, supporting protection and sustainable use of nature through the UNESCO sites networks of World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves and Global Geoparks.

The MAB programme brings together the natural and social sciences, economics and education to improve human livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits, and to safeguard natural and managed ecosystems, thus promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate, and environmentally sustainable.

While there are clear imperatives to move forward with this agenda in the developing world – UNESCO has identified Africa as an operational strategic priority – the SDGs have considerable relevance in more affluent countries like the UK.

Our nation’s six Biospheres lie at the heart of the sustainability agenda of UNESCO in the UK as the focus for conservation approaches, enabling communities to collaborate and live in harmony with their environment. Much activity in the Biospheres comprises outreach activities, education and training and bringing together local communities to achieve a balanced and sustainable future, through scientific methodologies and undertaking research.

Biospheres in the UK

Iconic British landscapes, such as The Living Coast, are a palimpsest of natural processes operating for millions of years and the imprint of human modification over millennia. MAB and its Biosphere Reserves provide locations for learning how we can work together and with nature to preserve the best of the past, and embrace the opportunities of the future to sustain our special environments and human heritage.

We invite everyone to play their part in the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure a thriving future and help to fix our home, Planet Earth.

Professor David J Drewry
Non-Executive Director, Natural Sciences
United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO

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