Partnerships with NGOs are key in battle to save the planet
Our planet is in dire straits. It is overheating. It has lost more than 50 percent of its vegetation. And it is suffering from ever-increasing desertification.
Everyone knows this. It is not new information. What is less well-known is that there are proven methods to restore lost forests and ecosystems.
Forests that are being destroyed need to be physically protected on the ground, as well as legally in the courts. Vegetation that has already been removed must be replaced with landscape-wide afforestation programs backed by government financing.
When governments partner with field-based nongovernmental organizations that specialize in restoring forests and ecosystems, and have experience in both eco-guard management and replanting forests, there is hope for restoring the Earth’s lost vegetation.
It is no longer sufficient to sign international conventions for the protection of nature, and it is not enough for countries to issue new policies and laws. These are not effective if they are not translated into action.
There are 166,000 areas around the world that have legal protection status and all have been given clear boundaries. Why, then, do they continue to be destroyed by the loss of their vegetation and wildlife?
The problem is not the legal status that these areas have received. The issue is lack of law enforcement. Effective protection can only happen when teams of professional rangers are trained, when there is a sufficient number of rangers, and they are provided with good equipment and logistical support. They should be given a full-time mandate to patrol sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week to prevent loggers, land grabbers and poachers from pillaging natural resources.
This lack of law enforcement is the reason why 80 percent of national parks around the planet are merely “paper parks,” the legal status of which is merely a document on a shelf, with no efficient ranger force deployed in the field to enforce it.
This point is an unavoidable element that governments must address urgently. Countering climate change requires protecting forests and wetlands because they represent our planet’s natural cooling system and source of freshwater. By destroying these ecosystems, we cause temperatures to rise and our freshwater reserves to shrink.
How can we survive, as humans, if we don’t protect the surface of the Earth from overheating?
Dr. Suwanna Gauntlett
Freshwater is our most critical survival problem today, as we have already lost 50 percent of our global reserves. How can we survive, as humans, if we don’t protect the surface of the Earth from overheating, if we don’t preserve the vegetation that regulates global rainfall, and if we don’t restore ecosystems that provide water recharge to underground aquifers?
Most governments do not pay enough attention to climate change, and global media outlets focus more on politics than on the survival of our planetary ecosystems and natural resources. This is alarming, given the most recent scientific reports on the state of the Earth: The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet reports; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Climate Reports; and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification’s Desertification Reports.
This is where nongovernmental organizations come into play. Governments are skilled in making policies and laws but most lack the technical know-how needed to protect national parks, reverse the decline of wildlife species and recover shrinking freshwater reserves. They need assistance in the field from expert NGOs.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia understands the importance of restoring its vegetation and is leading the way with the Saudi Green Initiative, which includes plans to plant 10 billion trees and reserve 20 percent of its land surface for nature protection.
When the International Exhibition and Forum on Afforestation Technologies convenes in Riyadh this month, government agencies and NGOs will meet to discuss methodologies for revegetating the country and securing support to help implement the Green Initiative on the ground.
It is this kind of alliance that offers hope for the Earth’s future — and for our survival as humans.
• Dr. Suwanna Gauntlett is the founder and CEO of Wildlife Alliance. She has dedicated her life to protecting rainforests and wildlife in some of the world’s most hostile and rugged environments. Twitter: @dr_suwanna