'Later' is no longer in our dictionary


The Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI), which was supported by UNDP, World Bank and GEF, established a sustainable regime for harvesting wildflowers on 30,000 hectares of land, thereby maintaining natural habitat. Employment for certified flower pickers and packers doubled within three years. Photo: FLOWER VALLEY CONSERVATION TRUST/SLINGSHOT MEDIA

I grew up in Bucharest, Romania and my chosen academic path was molecular genetics, until my Professor of Ecology introduced me to the outstandingly beautiful Danube Delta. This was in 1983, way before it received international recognition as a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

I still recall today, the immense happiness at the sight of my first Pigmy Cormorants, Spoonbills and Dalmatian Pelicans. I envied the people of the Delta for waking up every morning in this paradise and was oblivious to their economic hardship and lack of opportunities. My world was a fascinating one – the world of scientific surveys, Latin names and endless discussions with peers on biodiversity and protected areas.

Thirty years and three continents later, my conservation work seamlessly metamorphosed into development work and new words came into my dictionary. Along the journey, Mayans of the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve in Belize taught me in the 90’s that if it was to succeed, their protected area, a lush rainforest, studded with enigmatic long deserted Mayan ruins, should provide economic benefits beyond employment of several rangers and should play a key role in local development.

It was such an amazing pleasure to listen to their success stories at the World Parks Congress in Sydney. In the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the botanical treasure of South Africa, which harbours more than 9,600 different species of plants, the communities working in seasonal jobs as flower pickers shared with me their dreams of continuous employment, easy access to school for their children and decent working conditions. We worked together to transform the dream into reality: a flower company to support sustainable harvesting of the wild flowers; the flowers and their “story” are sold in the western markets and the employment for certified flower pickers and packers doubled within three years of our work; we built a school and have trained local women as teachers. We have launched the program during the previous World Parks Congress which took place in Durban in 2003 - the Congress, which had Nelson Mandela as a patron.

When I talk about the snow leopards of Central Asia, I no longer give the Latin name, but describe them as the symbol of sustainable development for remote mountain communities.  My peers are now development practitioners and my heart still skips a beat at the sight of a wild flower. UNDP has the largest biodiversity portfolio of all agencies, and we have demonstrated that protected areas are one of the most effective ways to deliver on the pressing development challenges of the 21st Century, such as how to ensure we have adequate food to feed today’s seven billion people and the projected nine billion by 2030; how to ensure we make the best use of the limited freshwater resources; how to ensure that the world’s poorest people have secure access to the resources they need to maintain livelihoods and how to reduce the vulnerability to disasters and climate change

The 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney has just ended, resulting in the “Promise of Sydney”.  The message from the Congress is clear. Nature is the ultimate foundation of life, our economy and our aspirations - it underpins our human existence, cultural identity, health and prosperity.

At this Congress, UNDP suggested more than 100 solutions for Parks, People and Planet. Towards the global biodiversity targets of 2022 and to fulfil the Promise of Sydney, the world must move rapidly to take these solutions to a much larger scale. “Later is no longer in our dictionary,” said Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist at a closing session in the Congress.  “So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.”

At the next Congress in 2024, one critical indicator of our success in the coming decade will be how many of the Congress participants will be from the non-conservation communities.  And how they are taking proactive roles in maintaining our lifelines. 

Blog post Environment Ecosystems and biodiversity Sustainable development

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