Liberia” Climate change, COVID-19 and ecosystem degradation

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

The Stockholm+50 consultations converged on the idea that for planet Earth to enhance everyone’s prosperity, we all have a collective and individual responsibility to do our part, big or small, to save Mother Earth. The consultations heard views and ideas from “the whole of society”, with many calling for action. “After all these discussions, let’s act!” was a repeated message during each consultation event. We are at a critical moment in history as the world grapples with the triple crises of climate change, ecosystem degradation and the effects of COVID-19.

Climate change is a very real reality for the people of Liberia. We may not know much about the greenhouse gases that raise atmospheric temperatures, or notice the rise in temperatures, but sea level rise that is decimating the country’s coastline has changed its reality. in the lives of hundreds of families across Liberia.

From West Point and New Kru Town to Monrovia to the entire coast of Liberia, from Robertsport to Harper, hundreds of families can only point out to the sea where their homes once stood. The abandoned houses along the coast battered by sea storms, the roads abruptly cut off by sea erosion and the schools, which survive only thanks to protective rock revetments built to contain the advance of the ocean, testify to the reality of climate change.

The country’s unique forests and wetlands are also under attack from shifting cultivation, mining, logging and construction activities. This presents a double tragedy as these ecosystems provide vital environmental services, including the absorption of atmospheric carbon, helping to minimize the temperature increases that cause climate change.

With the degradation of forests and wetlands comes also 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 the drying up of wetlands, pollution and pollution of the environment put our own lives at risk. With 68% of biodiversity lost in the past 50 years, it looks like we’ve been doomed to extinction.

And as if climate change and biodiversity loss weren’t enough, COVID-19 has thrown the wrench in the works. The world is struggling to get back on its feet after COVID-19 crippled the world for at least a year, killing millions and reversing critical development gains. COVID-19 turned out to be more than a medical emergency.

It has disrupted health services such as routine childhood immunizations and limited access to maternal and newborn health services. It has bogged down the economy, curtailed agricultural production and strangled the small businesses that are the lifeline of most Liberians, leading to an alarming increase in poverty. It wiped out an entire school year as the country’s limited access to electricity, computers and internet connectivity eliminated the option of digital learning.

COVID-19 has triggered a development emergency that continues to unfold unpredictably, forcing governments, including that of Liberia, to review and revise their national development plans. The world is in the perfect storm.

This year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, provides a timely opportunity for the world to pause and review our relationship with nature in relation to our goals and aspirations for growth and prosperity.

Over 900 Liberians showed up in droves at the Stockholm+50 consultations and provided valuable insight into the urgent actions needed for a healthy planet and prosperity for all. Clear priorities included better waste management at the personal, municipal, county and national levels, and the need to transform plastic recycling into a fully-fledged circular economy.
Last year, UNDP’s Development Dialogue on the country’s plastic waste problem added information on opportunities for developing a circular economy that will turn plastic waste into wealth. UNDP acted on the recommendations of the Dialogue and provided grants to some Liberian waste management companies to help them scale up their activities, leading to innovative waste recycling initiatives, job creation for young people, women and people with disabilities, as well as the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
The people of Liberia also recommended a multi-sectoral approach to post-COVID recovery that builds on lessons from past outbreaks and the creation of social safety nets to help those whose livelihoods have been wiped out by the lockdowns. This year, UNDP supported LISGIS to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on small informal businesses.
The data, which is currently being analyzed, will inform the development of a multi-dimensional vulnerability index, which will help government and development actors design better-targeted programs and initiatives to foster a green and inclusive recovery after COVID-19.
So how to accelerate the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development as we approach 2030? A highly relevant question following the assessment that Liberia was only doing well in a few SDGs – one being climate action, according to a student from the University of Cuttington. Many participants agreed on the need to implement the commitments made by the government and to decentralize the dissemination of information to all counties because “Monrovia is not Liberia”.
As Liberians converge in Ganta and other parts of the country to observe World Environment Day, the consensus is clear: we only have one Earth and we all have a responsibility to ensure safe use sustainability of our natural resources. It’s time to act.
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