Members of the community need to take greater responsibility for the environment, experts have said in a Qatar Foundation webinar ‘Our Biodiversity and Our Future’, that marked World Environment Day.
The online seminar, organized in collaboration with the Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar, saw the panellists — including members of the United Nations — urge the public to become active participants in restoring and protecting the environment.
“You must include the people,” said Dr. Miguel Clüsener-Godt, Director of the Ecological and Earth Sciences Division and Secretary to the Man and the Biosphere Programme, UNESCO. “People must protect their biodiversity — Ownership is so important. The government alone cannot do it. It must be done by the people.”
Roula Majdalani, Cluster Leader, Climate Change and Natural Resources Sustainability, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, said, “Freshwater, clean air, and preserving the rich ecosystem is everyone’s responsibility.
“Today we are addressing what we can do as individuals, as NGOs, as youth groups, to bring change. It is through changing our behaviour that we can live in harmony with nature.
“What we have seen through the COVID-19 crisis — with the lockdown and the reduction of economic and social activities — are clearer skies and fresher air. And this has taught us a lesson: by consuming less, we can still live well. In fact, we can live better.
“Why should we care? Because it is for our survival. We need to be mindful of this, not just because of the reproductive capacity of nature, but for the survival of humankind.”
Majdalani emphasized that, through the loss of biodiversity, valuable sources of health protection are lost, with more sandstorms and extreme weather events occurring. She cited the example of coral reefs which protect shores, pointing out that dying reefs will increase the likelihood of storms affecting shorelines and rising sea levels. Honey production in the Arab region, she said, is under threat because of the loss of biodiversity.
“We share the responsibility, we can all make a difference,” Majdalani said. “We don’t need another COVID-19 and another shock like this one to show that we can consume more sustainably, we can produce more sustainably.”
Actions that communities can take to protect biodiversity, highlighted during the webinar, included supporting environmental programs and initiatives, regardless of their size; decreasing the amount of water people consume; conserving energy by investing in energy-efficiency appliances; reducing greenhouse emissions by walking more; growing fruit and vegetables; and lessening food wastage by learning to compost.
The role of youth in safeguarding biodiversity was also a key topic of discussion, with Dr. Clüsener-Godt highlighting the importance of educating people on this issue from a young age. “You must start at a very young level, with children,” he said.
“For them, this then becomes normal. If you tell schoolchildren about biodiversity at the age of four, they’ll start teaching their parents. And this is sometimes more efficient than the other way round.”
Neeshad Shafi, Executive Director, Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar, discussed the importance of engaging young people in co-creating solutions to local environmental issues. “Young people have a lot to offer,” he said.
“Youth across the globe, and especially youth in the Arab world, are engaged in limiting or halting the loss of biodiversity in their countries. What we are trying to do is build a vibrant young movement for biodiversity protection, and also empower the young people of Qatar to push other governments and local organizations towards a brighter, greener, and healthier future for all.
The Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar works towards this goal through programs and initiatives such as measuring carbon footprint and eco-literacy for imams, and by ensuring that youth are part of the conversation. As Shafi said: “Young people have a tremendous role to play, and it takes a lot of courage for young people to come up with ideas, so we’ve given them a platform.
“We have to make sure that future generations can live on a healthy planet.”