Mumbai: Every year on 5th of June World Environment day is being celebrated for environmental awareness, public engagement and intervention to preserve our environment. With its theme ‘It’s Time for Nature’, 2020 W.E.D will be unique in the sense that the celebrations will be digital and online.

Columbia, in collaboration with Germany, would host this year’s world environment day as announced by the United Nations Environment Agency last year.

Our planet’s diverse and thriving ecosystem is venerable at different levels but simultaneously vulnerable to collapse. Sahara Desert which once was a lush green forest has become a desert, the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia is fast becoming dead and children born this generation may perhaps be the last ones to see a coral reef. ‘Living Planet’ report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) states that in the last 50 years Amazon rainforest has shrunk to 80% and we have lost 60% of all vertebrate wildlife population. The loss of invertebrate life has gone into the realm of the uncountable  that it can be expressed in only in biomass; a recent German study suggests that up to 75% insects’ biomass is lost, just in the last three decades.

Exploration of ecosystems gives us awe inspiring interactions honed by millions of years of evolution, yet the fittest who survived the test of nature is not fit enough to pull through the industrial onslaught of the last few decades. This vast knowledge of evolution is being deleted from the face of earth in an ever accelerating and unprecedented level qualifying enough to be called – “Burning the library of life”. This huge reduction in biodiversity since the emergence of humans is now on the scale of another mass extinction so much so that a geological name was awarded – The Anthropocene extinction.

When it comes to biodiversity loss, climate change takes the driving seat, with its long list of environmental impacts. Biodiversity in an ecosystem is more important  than we intuitively assume, rare species that are even not in the radar of humans also play an essential role in balancing the delicate ecosystem. An ecosystem’s resilience to anthropogenic avalanche factors rests in its diversity. How many of us have ever learned that spider monkeys play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change, by being important dispersers of the seeds of many hardwood trees in tropics which have an extraordinary capacity for carbon sequestration.

Biodiversity is built out of three interdependent pillars – the diversity of ecosystems, species and genes. The more interlaced they are, the more robust the web becomes and the loss of one or two organisms does not do any harm to the ecosystem. Biodiversity is clearly a vital statistic for any flourishing ecosystem and an insurance against its collapse.

However, the ecosystem’s resilience to the absence of certain species does not hold true in any environment; removing only one species leads to the collapse of the entire ecosystem, say the corals, destroy them, and the entire gamut of organisms associated with them are wiped out, these are known as the keystone species. This is exactly why a concerted and organised effort should be put to preserve ecosystems and its diversity. Anthropogenic interventions in nature may have immediate and unintended consequences too, loss of habitats and encroachments can unleash novel diseases like the COVID19. As the permafrost and Ice melts at higher latitudes due to climate change and the warming, viruses which were dormant and hidden beneath the dense sheets of ice wakes up; coupled with the antimicrobial resistance that is plaguing the medical world now, only time will tell how deep the rabbit hole goes.

While we may be the last generation to see the corals, we are also the first generation that has the clear picture of the value of nature and the enormous impact we have on it. Nature provides services worth around US$ 125 trillion a year globally, to be put on monetary terms. Never in the history of this planet has one species ever possessed the knowledge and technology necessary to restore the delicate balance of the environment that it  lives in.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2021 – 2030 as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims for an unprecedented intergovernmental effort to restore the lost worlds. The Government of India is one of the countries to act very early on climate change. The National Action Plan of climate change with its eight missions form the backbone of our climate change policy. India’s Intended Nationally Determined Commitments submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is unparalleled for any developing country, we have pledged to reduce the emission intensity of our gross domestic product by 33-35 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030 which means that for every additional rupee of our GDP requires progressively lesser and lesser amount of energy spent.

DV Vinod Kumar. The author is an officer of the Indian Information Service.

The future is not bleak yet, what lies ahead of us is a clear roadmap of what to do and what not to. The COVID pandemic and the ensuing lockdown have shown us how nature bounced back when given an opportunity, this is the promise that nature gives us and that’s our only hope.