Coping with Environmental Challenges, Climate and Biodiversity Action in UNESCO Sites

UNESCO’s side event at the High-Level Political Forum 2021 showcased solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation, using on concrete examples from from UNESCO’s unique global network of designated sites, which are important models for building resilience to climate change and reconciling people and nature. The event on 6 July 2021 was opened and moderated by Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences. She shared a message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the relevant activities of more than 2,000 UNESCO designated sites to promote sustainable solutions. The UNESCO global network of sites covers 6% of the Earth’s landmass and comprises 1,121 World Heritage Sites, 714 Biosphere Reserves and 169 UNESCO Global Geoparks distributed all over the world.

The side event began with a discussion on how to address climate change and biodiversity on land and in the Ocean from a scientific perspective, followed by a ministerial-level dialogue with government representatives on climate action and global policies with a focus on the G20 and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Youth representatives then took the floor to share their experience as actors of positive change on the ground. Further details and presentations from each session are shared below.

Professor Hans-Otto Pörtner and Dr. David Obura presented the outcomes of the first co-sponsored workshop of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), highlighting the interactions between the climate and the biodiversity crises. He commented that “Climate change and biodiversity loss are threating human wellbeing and society: they are closely interconnected and share common anthropogenic drivers.”

Conservation efforts have not been sufficient to inhibit the loss of biodiversity: the surface currently subjected to ambitious conservation is too small to stem the loss of biodiversity on a global scale. An immediate conclusion is that maintaining biodiversity and its functioning relies on phasing out emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. On the other hand, a thriving biodiversity will facilitate climate change adaptation for people and ecosystems.

Dr. Obura stressed that conservation, climate and societal action must be integrated, taking into consideration that people’s interaction with nature varies greatly. These three areas of action act as coupled systems and understanding how to improve the whole system is key to successful action. Nature-based solutions have their limits and must be supported by a transformation of regulatory systems and governance systems to make positive outcomes possible. Three essential components are ambitious emissions reductions from fossil fuels, restoring a resilient biosphere and biodiversity, and addressing justice and equality in eradicating poverty.

Dr. Paula Cristina Sierra-Correa gave an overview of the ecosystem services provided by the ocean, and the role of marine and coastal ecosystems in addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. She presented opportunities the restoration of vulnerable marine ecosystems such as mangroves and seagrass can provide to offset some of the worst-case scenarios discussed in the global risk report. Recent studies by Dr. Sierra-Correa and colleagues on seagrass blue carbon stock in the Caribbean underlined the urgent need to extend marine protected areas to 30% by 2030 in order to cope with climate change.


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