The year 2020 was intended to be a “biodiversity super year”. Many far-reaching decisions concerning the preservation of biodiversity were meant to be taken in 2020. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of international meetings could not take place and have been postponed.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is not an isolated phenomenon. Scientific evidence links the emergence of the COVID-19 virus to the breakdown of ecosystems and biodiversity loss. Humankind has been destroying the natural environment at an accelerating rate, putting human populations in contact with new pathogens we are not equipped to control.
The year 2020 has also continued to show the interconnection of climate change and biodiversity. Rampant fires, probably caused by climate change impacts, have threatened natural World Heritage sites in many parts of the world, such as Brazil’s Pantanal region and Australia’s Blue Mountains and Gondwana Rainforests. Again we saw coral mass bleaching events and glacier melting. Extreme weather events have also hit the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda, Socotra in Yemen and the Sundarbans in India, in addition to causing flooding at many cultural properties.
Tragically, instead of the biodiversity super year, 2020 has become the year that nature gives us a clear warning: if we do not reverse biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and address the causes of climate change, the world could see unprecedented changes irreversibly affecting our planet, our way of life and many of our irreplaceable World Heritage properties.
We can only hope what we have learned in 2020 will convince world leaders, and each one of us, to take the decisions needed for transformative change to save our planet, in 2021 and beyond. By working together we can address these challenges, mitigate losses and make effective change in helping our natural world to thrive.
I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy 2021!
Mechtild Rössler
UNESCO World Heritage Centre