It is not enough for us just to commemorate Earth Day. Action is also required
In 1970, Earth Day was celebrated for the first time, UN began celebrating it a year later. Since then, almost half a century later, we regularly commemorate Earth Day - on April 22, experts annually point out to our dependence on nature, the resources provided to us by the planet, and draw attention to the consequences of our behaviour towards the environment.
"Although our dependence on the planet has been discussed for a long time, as well as the threats we pose by our misconduct in the country, the situation is unsatisfactory. Thanks to our unsustainable activities, nature is almost lost before our eyes,” warns Zita Izakovičová from the Institute of Landscape Ecology SAS.
The world is not making enough progress in addressing environmental challenges. Natural capital is not yet protected, preserved or improved. According to the EU´s Biodiversity Strategy, the world's wildlife population has fallen by 60 per cent over the last 40 years. One million species are threatened with extinction. According to the FAO, up to 60 per cent of the world's ecosystems are degraded and used unsustainably, as documented by Viktória Miklósová from ÚKE SAS.
Only a small proportion of protected species (23%) and habitats (16%) are in favourable conservation status in Europe. "Air pollution continues to affect biodiversity and ecosystems, with 62 per cent of Europe's ecosystems exposed to an excessive amount of nitrogen, which causes eutrophication," calculates V. Miklósová, adding that even though during the COVID-19 epidemic, pollutant production decreased in the most affected cities and areas by almost up to 60 per cent (Italy, Spain, etc.), but as statistics show, we are now returning to the original regime in the production of pollutants.
What is the situation like in Slovakia?
According to experts, the situation is similarly unfavourable here. In 2018, 75 per cent of species and 63.4 per cent of habitats of European importance in Slovakia were in an unfavourable condition (unsatisfactory, or bad), pursuant to data from the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic from last year.
"The loss of biodiversity is one of the biggest threats that humanity will have to face in the next decade. "The impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems is expected to increase, while activities such as agriculture, fishing, transport, industry and energy production will continue to lead to biodiversity loss, resource extraction and degradation, and the production of harmful emissions,” states Z. Izakovičová. In addition to the environmental effect, biodiversity is also crucial for ensuring food security in the EU and the whole world, and many other effects. Besides the environmental problem, biodiversity is:
- a climate problem - the destruction and damage of ecosystems and their components is accelerating by global warming and the negative effects of climate change while restoring the country is mitigating climate change;
- an economic problem - natural capital provides us with food, water and also a raw material base for the development of individual economic sectors, especially for industry and agriculture, etc. By recklessly drawing on and degrading natural resources, we are constantly disposing of this base;
- security problem - the loss of biodiversity increases the susceptibility to natural risks and disasters because ecosystems contribute to the regulation of many phenomena and processes that take place in the country (erosion-accumulation processes, landslides, floods, excessive drought, etc.);
- the problem of food security - plants, animals, including pollinators, and soil organisms play a vital role in our food system. More than 75 per cent of the world's food crops depend on animal pollination. Many species of pollinators have become extinct, and this is a matter of serious concern, as pollinators are an integral part of healthy ecosystems as well as ensuring food security;
- health problem - the degradation of ecosystems increases the risks of the spread of non-native and invasive species and pathogens, which are also a significant threat to the health of the population. Moreover, healthy nature has a positive effect on people's mental health and well-being, as it provides us with several cultural and recreational services;
- the intergenerational problem - with our unsustainable behaviour, we endanger and degrade the natural resources and potentials of the territory, thus depriving future generations of the basis of a fulfilled life. We prefer the use of ecosystem production services, especially at the expense of regulatory and protection services, thereby disrupting the natural links, phenomena and processes taking place in the country. We live at the expense of future generations.
"If we want to reverse these unfavourable trends, it is no longer enough just to commemorate Earth Day, but it is also necessary to take action, to start systematically taking care of our nature, our country. The message of Europe's Environment Report - State and Perspective 2020 is how development that ensures a balance between societal, economic and environmental requirements of society, while pointing to an integrated approach that takes into account the complex factors and consequences of environmental change in a global context, can be achieved,” explains the Director of ÚKE SAS Z. Izakovičová. Sustainable development must become a fundamental principle of policies as well as measures throughout society. According to her, the change requires mutual cooperation of all areas and levels of state administration with the potential of citizens, companies and communities. Experts also recall the words of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, who says that "the time has come for us to finally start giving our planet more than we draw from it". Restoration of nature must be a central element of the EU's recovery plan following the coronavirus pandemic. According to EU data, a quarter of the Union's budget has been set aside for climate action, with a significant share to be invested in biodiversity and nature-inspired solutions. "It's up to us how we use them. Can we do it?” conclude experts Zita Izakovičová and Viktória Miklósová from ÚKE SAS on the occasion of the Earth Day.
Edited by Andrea Nozdrovická
Foto: unsplash.com/Aaron Burden