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Climate Change, COVID-19 and Ecosystem Degradation: The urgency for accelerating environmental dimensions of the SDGs in Liberia could not be greater

By: Stephen Rodriques UNDP Liberia Resident Representative

After nearly three months of rigorous Stockholm+50 nationwide consultations in Liberia on the theme, a healthy planet for the prosperity of all, it is time to observe the World Environment Day, aimed at raising awareness on the fact that we have “only one Earth”, and our collective survival depends on it.

The Stockholm+50 consultations converged on the notion that for planet Earth to buttress the prosperity of everyone, we all have collective and individual responsibility to do our part, no matter how small or big, to save Mother Earth. The consultations heard views and ideas from “the whole of society”, with many people calling for action. “After all the talk, let us act!” was a message repeated during each consultation event. We are at a critical moment in history as the world is grappling with the triple crises of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the effects of COVID-19.

Climate change is a very present reality for the people in Liberia. We may not know much about the greenhouse gases increasing atmospheric temperatures, nor notice the rising temperatures, but rising sea levels decimating the country’s coastline has brought its reality change right into the lives of hundreds of families across Liberia.

From WestPoint and New Kru Town in Monrovia to the entire coastline of Liberia from Robertsport to Harper, hundreds of families can only but point out to sea where their homes once stood. Abandoned homes on the edge of the coast battered by sea storms, roads abruptly cut off by sea erosion and schools which only continue to stand because of protective rock revetments constructed to hold at bay the advancing ocean are evidence of the reality of climate change.

The country’s unique forests and wetlands are also under assault from shifting agriculture, mining, logging and construction activities. This presents a double tragedy because these ecosystems provide vital environmental services including absorbing atmospheric carbon helping to minimize temperature increases driving climate change.

The degradation of forests and wetlands is also accompanied by the loss of plants, animals and other creatures that may hold the key to cures for diseases such as cancer, malaria, Ebola and COVID-19. The clearing of forests and draining of wetlands, littering and polluting the environment are putting our very own lives at risk. With 68% of biodiversity lost in the past 50 years, it appears we have consigned ourselves to extinction.

And as if climate change and biodiversity loss are not enough, COVID-19 has thrown the spanner into the works. The world is struggling to get back on its feet after COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill for at least one year, claiming millions of lives, and reversing critical development gains. COVID-19 has proved to be more than a medical emergency.

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It disrupted health services such as routine childhood immunization, and limited access to maternal and neonatal health services. It bogged down the economy, stunting agricultural production and throttling small businesses that are the lifeline of most Liberians, resulting alarming rise in poverty. It wiped out an entire school year as the country’s limited access to electricity, computers and internet connectivity eliminated the digital learning option.

COVID-19 sparked a development emergency that continues to unfold in unpredictable ways compelling governments, including that of Liberia, to review and revise their national development plans. The world is in the perfect storm.

This year, which marks 50 years since the first UN conference on the environment and development, provides a timely opportunity for the world to pause and re-look at our relationship with nature against our goals and aspirations for growth and prosperity.

More than 900 Liberian people turned up in large numbers for the Stockholm+50 consultations and provided useful insights on the urgent actions required for a healthy planet and prosperity of all. Clear priorities included better waste management at the personal, city, county and national levels, and the need to scale up plastic recycling into a full-fledged circular economy.

Last year, UNDP’s Development Dialogue on the country’s plastic waste problem added insights on opportunities for developing a circular economy that will transform plastic waste into wealth.  UNDP acted on the Dialogue’s recommendations and provided grants to some of Liberia’s waste management companies to help them scale up their activities resulting in innovative waste recycling initiatives, job creation for youth, women and people with disabilities, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The people of Liberia also recommended a multi-sectoral approach to post-COVID recovery that draws on lessons from past epidemics and creation of social safety nets to help those whose livelihoods were obliterated by lockdowns. UNDP this year supported LISGIS to undertake a comprehensive socio-economic impact assessment of COVID-19 on small informal businesses.

The data, which is currently being analyzed, will inform development of a multi-dimensional vulnerability index, that will help the government and development actors to design better targeted programmes and initiatives to aid a green, inclusive recovery from COVID-19.

So how should we accelerate implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development as the clock ticks towards 2030? A very pertinent question following the assessment that Liberia was only performing well in a couple of SDGs – one being climate action, according to a student of Cuttington University. Many participants agreed on the need to implement the commitments the government has signed up to and decentralize information dissemination to all counties because “Monrovia is not Liberia”.

As Liberians converge in Ganta and other parts of the country to observe the World Environment Day, the consensus is clear: we have only one Earth and we all have a responsibility towards ensuring sustainable use of our natural resources. The time to act is now.

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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