On World Environment Day, we hear from 2019 Legacy Award recipient Gabrielle Tan. Gabby has dedicated the past five years to advocating for our environment, and against educational inequalities in Malaysia and London. Gabby constantly sparks action through education and is an inspiration for all.
Celebrated annually on June 5th, World Environment Day unites individuals, businesses, and governments across the planet to tackle urgent environmental issues by raising awareness and propagating action on all scales. As we mark the 47th World Environment Day this year, the theme of biodiversity reflects our dire need to halt the rapid loss of species and environmental degradation.
Growing up in Malaysia, one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, many of my earliest memories involve nature, allowing me to foster a huge love and appreciation for it from a very young age. From splashing in clear blue waters to observing orangutans, reef fish, and mangrove forests, I have always been fascinated by nature’s diversity and harmony.
But I also witnessed coral bleaching, watched as wildlife species became extinct, and breathed in thick haze and I quickly realised that the way we produce and live are at war with nature. I wasn’t sure where to start, but I knew I couldn’t sit back and watch any longer, so I started speaking up for nature within my school community.
For the past few years, I’ve dedicated myself to advocating for healthy oceans, climate action, and social justice. From volunteering with local organisations, speaking at schools and conferences, and leading environmental education initiatives to striking for the climate, lobbying politicians, and urging businesses to rethink their ways, I’ve endeavoured to achieve crucial systemic change and inspire behavioural change along the way too.
We are currently living in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis. In the first half of 2020 alone, our world has experienced devastating forest fires in Brazil and Australia, locust swarms across South Asia and Africa, major floods in Indonesia and severe storms in America and Philippines, to name a few.
Last year, the UN IPBES’s report highlighted that species are becoming extinct faster than ever before in Earth’s history, with up to one million plant and animal species at risk of extinction, if we do not step up to protect them. This unprecedented loss of species is a direct result of human activity—relentless habitat destruction, exploitation of natural resources, pollution, and climate change are pushing nature closer to breaking point than ever before.
Nature provides us with food, water, oxygen, medicines, materials, opportunities, and endless inspiration; nature underpins our lives. As we lose more and more species, the web of life on earth continues to shrink, directly threatening the security of our food, water, and health. Biodiversity loss also hinders our ecosystems ability to regulate our climate, thus also making us even more vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis. In other words, we will struggle to care for ourselves, if we do not protect and restore nature.
The global response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that drastic changes are indeed possible. As we continue to overcome the brunt of this pandemic, it is more important than ever that we rise up to the opportunity to build back better and honour World Environment Day with concrete action. The brunt of the biodiversity crisis falls on lower-income countries who will experience disproportionate biodiversity loss and those whose subsistence rely directly on natural resources, including farmers, fishermen, and indigenous communities across the world.
As we reimagine our relationship and redetermine our balance with nature, their voices, cultures, and knowledge must be centred and will be vital in our ability to respond to this crisis. For centuries, indigenous communities have thrived symbiotically with nature, but their voices often go unheard. Research published in the Nature journal revealed that while indigenous peoples make up 5% of the global population, they protect up to 80% of our biodiversity. Only through an inclusive approach will we be able to pave a way for a more resilient, fair, and sustainable world that allows both ecosystems and people to thrive.
I hope you will join me this World Environment Day and every day after that to help ensure the protection and restoration of nature. Everyone has a role to play and I encourage you to explore yours. From volunteering with your local environmental group and supporting their campaigns to becoming a more conscious consumer, there are so many ways to get started. Happy World Environment Day everybody! Here’s to creating the future we want, together.
Three ways you can get involved:
1. Get involved with your local organisations and help add your voice to their campaigns. Organisations with global chapters include 350.org, Climate Reality Project (their first-ever virtual Climate Leader training is coming up soon!), and Friends of the Earth. There are so many great community-based organisations all across the world and likely around you too! Find a like-minded group to fight for change with because we are always stronger together.
2. Sign Campaign For Nature’s 30×30 petition calling on world leaders to protect 30% of our land and ocean by 2030.
3. Take steps to leading a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly lifestyle if you are able to, and educate those around you to do the same. Although we need systemic change to truly tackle the biodiversity and climate crises, the power of individual actions must not be forgotten. Here are articles that may be helpful The Guardian | 50 simple ways to make your life greener | Environment, UNICEF USA | A Guide to Sustainable Living.