WWF Africa Region Director Alice Ruhweza Sheds Light on International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB)
On 22nd May 2022 the world celebrated the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) or World Biodiversity Day, but then what's the significance of the day to Africa?
On 22nd May 2022 the world celebrated the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) or World Biodiversity Day, which was proclaimed as a way to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
As a leading environmental organisation, the World Wide Fund For Nature Africa (WWF Africa) is at the forefront of championing the halting of nature loss and biodiversity conservation.
The organisation seeks to make nature everyone's business and often draws links in their work to biodiversity and health, biodiversity and the economy, biodiversity and climate change, and biodiversity and food security.
AfricaBrief Editor-in-Chief, Winston Mwale (WM) caught up with Alice Ruhweza (AR) - WWF Africa Region Director.
Since July 2019, Alice has served as Regional Director for Africa at WWF. She ensures the organisation is highly influential, can shape Africa’s sustainability agenda domestically and globally and effectively deliver its global conservation priorities to achieve conservation impact within the WWF network.
WM: To begin, why did the United Nations declare May 22, 2022 to be the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB)? Please provide us with some background information.
AR: Every year on May 22, the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) is observed globally to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues facing the world. Previously, December 29 was designated as International Day for Biological Diversity, but the United Nations General Assembly changed the date to May 22 in 2000. Every year, the tone of the campaign is determined by a theme or tagline.
WM: The Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat has announced the Biodiversity Day 2022 slogan as "Building a shared future for all life." What are your thoughts on this slogan?
AR: This year’s slogan is in line with WWF vision ‘’to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature’’.
The slogan was chosen to continue building momentum and support for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be adopted at the upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference COP15. COP15 biodiversity conference in Kunming, China, later this year represents a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure a global agreement to address nature loss and degradation.
WM: Biodiversity is said to be the only solution to several global sustainable development challenges. Could you elaborate on what this means, particularly in relation to Africa?
Biodiversity and nature's contributions to Africa are economically, socially, and culturally significant, and are critical in supplying the continent with food, water, energy, health, and a secure livelihood, as well as a strategic asset for sustainable development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Biodiversity is critical for long-term development because it supplies jobs and tradable assets such as food, medicine, and building materials to local and global economies.
Nature provides the food and clean water that an increasing African population requires. Climate change can be mitigated by nature, making the ecosystems humans rely on for fundamental needs more adaptable to changes in weather patterns.
These ecosystems' biological diversity makes them more resilient and provides opportunities for long-term livelihoods. As a result, comprehending the value of biological diversity for the economy and human well-being, as well as sharing data with those who require it, is a critical component of long-term planning.
WM: In terms of Africa, what is your organisation doing to help the continent deal with the challenges posed by climate change?
AR: The impacts of climate change pose urgent and specific challenges to Africa. Many countries that were already suffering water shortage are also now experiencing lower rainfall, crop failure and reduced food security, while others are confronted by more extreme weather conditions, damaging and destroying vital infrastructure.
WWF aims to ensure by 2030 an equitable and just transition is underway that limits warming to 1.5°C, protects people and biodiversity, and builds a resilient future. In Africa, WWF efforts are needed to build resilience and adaptation to limit the worst impacts of climate change.
WWF has launched the Africa Adaptation Initiative and is working in 12 countries, including Cameroon, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia, to mobilise political will and build the capacity for adaptation to climate change.
A major contribution Africa can make is to hugely reduce deforestation and promote forest landscape restoration. Stopping forest loss is a priority, and WWF is partnering with other agencies to develop projects such as the UN’s Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).
Africa’s largest REDD+ project is underway in the Mai Ndombe province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the aim is to keep 10 million hectares of tropical forest in the priority Congo River basin intact and prevent the emission of 29 million tonnes of carbon over five years.
But Africa also has the potential to leapfrog traditional expensive energy systems and move towards a climate-smart energy future based on sustainability.
WM: Malawi is currently dealing with invasive alien species that are threatening to choke key biodiversity hotspots such as the Nyika, Mulanje, and Zomba rivers. As a result, the existence of wildlife species is threatened as water, habitat, and the interconnected web of life are harmed. This has implications for job creation, ecotourism, and agglomeration economies. What is the WWF's perspective on the problem, and what options are available to address it?
AR: IUCN, the World Conservation Union, states that the impacts of alien invasive species are immense, insidious, and usually irreversible. They may be as damaging to native species and ecosystems on a global scale as the loss and degradation of habitats. Hundreds of extinctions have been caused by invasive alien species. The ecological cost is the irretrievable loss of native species and ecosystems.
Invasive alien plants are one of the biggest threats to the health of our strategic water source areas, thus jeopardising further water supply, and the biodiversity therein. They cause harm to the environment, the economy and even human health.
Managing invasive alien species can help to prevent some of these negative impacts. WWF has facilitated the publishing of A Practical Guide to Managing Invasive Alien Plants
WM: One of the messages promoted by the organisers of the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) is that "every person matters, and every action you take matters." Do you believe such messages are taken seriously?
AR: Nature is important to everyone, regardless of where they live, what they eat, air they breath or water they drink. Everything is nature, and everything is nature. None of us would exist if it weren't for nature. It's because we rely on it heavily and are a part of it. We are the first generation to recognize that humanity is destroying the planet. And we may be the last ones who can make a difference. It is for this and many other reasons that our new Africa strategy aims to ‘’Make Nature Everyone’s Business’’.
For humanity to make a difference, everyone must take action. At WWF, we emphasise the need for society as a whole to take action, if we are to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. The change will also have to come from the bottom-up, where governments, businesses, indigenous people, local communities and other non-state actors can commit to taking actions that will halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
To develop systemic solutions that address the fundamental cause of biodiversity loss, multi-stakeholder engagement is required. Many conceptually wonderful solutions fail to be implemented because key stakeholders do not believe in the process. With more people involved, there is a larger chance for ideas to cross-pollinate and also encourages cultural transformation.
WM: We are also told to "invest in biodiversity-friendly businesses." What exactly are these biodiversity-friendly businesses? And what difference does it make?
AR: We at WWF understand the impact that business has on the environment. Our partners also recognize that a thriving business is contingent on a healthy environment. We design out a vision that sets a high bar for sustainability across a company's whole operations and beyond. And everything is possible when their vision matches ours.
People are increasingly expecting businesses to help them address social and environmental challenges, and many are doing so. A rising number of businesses are demonstrating that it is feasible to use their operations to benefit society and the environment. It can even be a commercial opportunity, allowing them to offer value to their brand, engage customers and employees, and create trust while minimizing risks and ensuring their long-term survival.
WWF's collaboration with business and industry aims to improve the long-term viability of commodity production and trade in the global marketplace. We work toward solutions that decrease negative impacts on places and species while also ensuring that enterprises have a reliable and long-term supply of raw materials.
WM: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the International Day of Biological Diversity (IDB) or biodiversity in general, particularly in Africa?
AR: It is clear that we are losing nature at a rate never seen before. WWF’s Living Planet Report (LPR), found that population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average decline of 68% since 1970. This cannot continue! We must stop destroying our natural world and instead restore the biodiversity we all depend on.
For Africa, the LPR reports an alarming 65% decline in population sizes of mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles. These declines are largely driven by increasing demand for natural resources to support a growing population and global patterns of unsustainable consumption and production that lead to widespread habitat loss (45.9%), overexploitation of species (35.5%), and invasive species and disease (11.6%).
The impacts of these drivers will be magnified through globalization and intensified under climate change. As we mark the International Day of Biological Diversity (IDB), WWF supports a clear and ambitious target within the Global Biodiversity Framework at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) that commits governments to redirect, repurpose, or eliminate all environmentally harmful subsidies by 2030 and increase positive incentives to enable an equitable, net-zero, nature-positive world.