As we celebrate World Environment Day this year, many of us are contemplating the 2021 theme of Reimagine. Recreate. Restore. This theme of restoration includes conversations about regeneration, climate and environmental literacy, climate restoration technologies, equity and environmental justice, and beyond. This list is an excellent one, and it encourages us to enable 360◦ Thinking about the many individual threads that are part of the bigger climate picture.
Improving our home’s energy efficiency or getting engaged in community climate action are fantastic direct actions to take on an individual level. But thinking broadly about climate resilience also means expanding our dialogue beyond the traditional ways of celebrating World Environment Day. To that end, I’d challenge us all to consider two questions today: how is climate change impacting our lives beyond the obvious, and who is paying the greatest price?
No matter who you are — or where — biodiversity loss is impacting your life.
When we talk about climate change impacts, we tend to focus on the most overt ones — issues like heat waves, droughts, and heavy precipitation events often take center stage. But extreme weather events aren’t the whole story. As our land use has expanded to the point where we’re seeing degradation to over a quarter of the Earth’s ice-free land, we are experiencing severe biodiversity loss. And the link between biodiversity loss, land use and climate change leads to events that many of us had not considered — like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even if you live far away from the Australia or California wildfires, or the Texas snowstorm that devastated their infrastructure, biodiversity loss and climate change directly impacted your life last year. COVID — just like SARS, HIV, and Ebola — was transmitted from an infected animal either through wildlife trade or human encroachment into their habitat. Like all zoonotic diseases, COVID comes from humans infringing on natural ecosystems. The loss of nature and the related biodiversity loss are linked to our greatest recent catastrophes; it’s these same forces of biological degradation that are causing extreme weather events, destroying our planet, and making us sick. And those deleterious impacts are harming some of us more than others.
The inverse can also be true. Restoration is an important component of this year’s World Environment Day, in part recognizing the role that nature-based solutions can build resilience to climate change. Environmental degradation reduces our resilience; environmental restoration enhances it.
Equity is a cornerstone of the climate conversation.
As we’ve clearly seen this past year, vulnerable populations have been much more likely to be impacted by COVID-19. This is just one of many circumstances in which our elderly, underhoused, racialized and economically precarious populations face crisis impacts more quickly, and with much greater severity. Those who are most vulnerable to COVID and climate change are those with the smallest safety nets. And we must make this a bigger part of the conversation.
Climate restoration must be fundamentally linked to equity. Social inequalities can greatly exacerbate the impacts of climate change, deepen environmental degradation, and undermine sustainable development.
We need to include diverse perspectives in the climate resilience dialogue, are work toward holistic solutions that don’t leave anyone behind.
Elliott Cappell is the Canadian Director, Climate Change, Resilience, and Sustainability. To learn more about the work WSP is doing to restore the natural environment across Canada, visit www.wsp.com/en-CA/services/esg-strategy-and-climate-change