A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, Office of the Chief Medical Officer
This year's World Environment Day theme, “Time for Nature," focuses on nature's critical role in providing the essential infrastructure that supports life on Earth and human development – and the importance of planning now, during these extraordinary times, to do better for people and for the planet.
For First Nations people, of course, every day is environment day. First Nations are well-known as proud and vigorous protectors of the land and water. In First Nations culture, being connected with the land is an important part of overall health and wellness, water is sacred, and consideration for future generations integral to planning.
Time for nature
Everything sustaining us comes from nature -- the foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the raw materials for medicines, and a stable climate that supports life.
First Nations well know that everything is connected, so that changing or removing anything in nature affects the entire life system and can produce negative consequences. Unfortunately, human actions, including deforestation, encroachment on wildlife habitats, intensified agriculture, and acceleration of climate change, have pushed nature beyond its limit. We can see this in the wildfires occurring in countries around the world, the loss of plant and animal species in our own lands, and skies obscured by pollution.
Even many communicable diseases - including this global pandemic - can be traced back to overly close proximity between humans and animals, often as a result of destruction of and encroachment on their habitats. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that about 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted to people by animals. They have flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern.
“In COVID-19, the planet has delivered its strongest warning to date that humanity must change," said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
Time to reset
If we continue on this path, climate change and biodiversity loss will have severe implications for humanity, including the collapse of food and health systems.
The COVID-19 outbreak has allowed nature to show its strength and resiliency -- for a short time, we have seen foxes returning to main streets, dips in carbon dioxide levels, and the return of remarkably blue skies. We need to do our part to address ongoing threats to the planet and the ecosystems that support all life.
As the world responds to and recovers from the current pandemic, we need a robust plan for protecting nature, so that nature can protect humanity and all living things. This is an opportunity for a reset, for us to think about what we want to be different moving forward.