The outbreak of Corona virus (Covid-19) has changed the world like nothing before. Covid has infected almost 15 million people, and caused the deaths of more than 600,000 people as off 21 July 2020. It has also caused a new economic and job loss crisis. Covid is a major wake-up call. It reminds us about our vulnerabilities, to take much better care of each other and nature, and better prepare ourselves for multiple parallel crises, making full use of science, education, and green economy, in a concerted action between UNESCO and partners.
‘The pandemic has allowed us to observe what scientists the world over have been saying for years: the interdependence between humanity and biodiversity is so profound that the latter’s vulnerabilities are our own. This health crisis is a warning that we must heed collectively: we must now fundamentally rethink our relationship with the living world, with natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. Together we must construct a new pact with the living world. This is an immense work in progress. It will require a broad consensus, both technical and ethical. UNESCO is one of the places where such a consensus can be built‘UNESCO Director General, Madame Audrey Azoulay’s speech on the occasion of World Environment Day 2020
Covid has also caused significant changes in the planning of work-activities. UNESCO Bangkok’s Natural Sciences Section is no exception. Business as usual with physical meetings, events, conferences, congresses became impossible, due to the emergency restrictions. Certain restrictions are expected to remain in place for quite some time in the future.
During the lock-down we were forced to work from home. Thanks to internet technology it was possible to turn to online meetings and webinars. However, soon it was noticed that online events became numerous, often lasting for many hours. This generated online-fatigue, and an imbalance in the work-life ratio. We need to find an innovative, interesting and engaging way to communicate, and continuously promote the open sciences to turn from rhetoric to action. This is what QUEST 4 ACTION (QUEST) tries to do. QUEST combines the effects of colourful and short online events, backed-up with an inter-active website that allows for the presentation of films, slide-shows, scientific pre-publications, blog-contributions and much more. It will engage professional scientists, concerned Government agencies, the general public, young people (schools and universities), academia, environmental stewards, to function as a bridge for credible, swift, measurable and long-lasting private-sector engagement.
It is clear that, after the Covid-19 crisis becomes less urgent, other crises will remain. This includes biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and water-related calamities. These long-term crises, which are related to population dynamics, environmental management, awareness and behaviour, have been recognised by UNESCO and the UN General Assembly years ago. This is why the World Network of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves was born in 1971, and World Environment Day was established 1972.
A lot of things have changed since that time. Humanity has doubled from 3.9 to 7.8 billion people. Forests have disappeared. Mangroves have vanished. Species have became extinct. Climate change became obvious. Coral reefs have been bleached. The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. Temperatures are climbing. Sea-levels are rising. Air pollution has worsened in cities. Plastic pollution has reached every corner of the world. None of these crises has been overcome to date, and these crises will not somehow go away by themselves.
What has not changed since the early 70s? Human life will keep depending on clean air to breath, clean water to drink and enough food to eat. We still have to do much more to form a coalition between nature and people. Action is required to turn things around. It needs concerted action supported by ‘Open Sciences’ in combination with a mechanism to promote the emerging green economy by augmenting the knowledge and skills necessary.
UNESCO Bangkok has produced a number of platforms for collaborative work, aimed to improve biodiversity conservation and the green economy. One of these programmes is the Plastic Initiative (beat plastic pollution) which is already supported by strong partners, such as
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO
- The United Nations Environment Programme UNEP
- The United Nations Human Settlement Programme UN Habitat
- The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific UNESCAP
- The International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN
- The SE Asian Ministers of Education Organization SEAMEO
- The Asian Institute of Technology AIT
- The Thai National Science Museum NSM.
Another platform for ‘Open Sciences’ action is ‘The UNESCO Green Academies’ (closing the gap between environmental classroom teaching and real life), already supported by
- UN Habitat
The third action platform for the conservation, and restoration of, and scientific research into mangrove ecosystems is ‘The Mangrove Forum’, which is headed by UNESCO, andalready receives support from numerous stakeholders, including
- The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization FAO
- Flora & Fauna International
- The International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems ISME
- The Mangrove Action Project
- Mangrove Conservation and Restoration Program
- The Dr. Muhamad Ajmal Khan Institute for Sustainable Halophyte Utilization ISHU
- The Manfred Hermsen Stiftung
- The Michael Succow Stiftung
These groups will work as teams, sharing information, supporting each other, and developing individual and joint activities that will contribute to science-based actions to reduce plastic pollution, enhance environmental awareness, knowledge and climate adaptation skills, and to conserve and restore blue carbon ecosystems. The partners will invite Government authorities, the private sector, schools, students, communities, and every single one of us to assist them, and work together to achieve their aims. These are credible platforms for private sector investment, and to promote social and environmental community responsibility.