Connecting People to Nature - World Environment ??Connecting People to Nature’, the theme of World Environment Day 2017, highlights the vast benefits, from food security and improved health to water supply

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  • Connecting People to Nature

  • Connecting People to Nature, the theme of World Environment Day 2017, highlights the vast benefits, from food security and improved health to water supply and climatic stability, that natural systems and clean environments provide to humanity. It also encourages us to get outdoors and appreciate those benefits first-hand, including the beauty and diversity of the natural world that surrounds and sustains us.

    Today, the natural capital that supplies those benefits is at risk from unsustainable development such as the large-scale conversion of forests and wetlands for agriculture, the pollution of soil, water and air, resource-hungry production and consumption and poor urban planning in our fast-growing cities.

    Promoting awareness of the importance of functioning ecosystems and the services they provide, and safeguarding them for future generations, are critical to achieving many aspects of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Central to achieving those goals as well as targets set under the UNs Convention on Biological Diversity Strategic Biodiversity Action Plan (2010-2020) is the global network of protected areas. Expanding and improving the effectiveness of this network will be vital if we are to succeed in safeguarding and enhancing our shared environment in the decades to come.

    Ecosystem servicesEcosystems perform many critical functions which are often neglected in decision-making. To help policymakers take them into account, economists have estimated the annual value of some of those services to human well-being.

    Moreover, an estimated 1.6 billion people living in poverty use forests for all or part of their livelihoods.

    $577 billionCrop pollination by insects worldwide

    $274 billionCommercial fishings contribution to global GDP

    $34 billionExtra healthcare costs from the loss of vultures in India

    $1 millionTourism revenue from each live gorilla in Uganda

    $126,700Flood prevention of Mantadia National Park in Madagascar

    $1,500 per hectarePest control by birds in North American conifers

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    Nature and health Many studies show that time spent in green spaces

    counters mental health problems such as stress and depression. Affecting 350 million people, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

    In Japan, the health benefits of forests have prompted some local governments to promote forest therapy. Research shows time in the woods can boost the immune system, including against cancer.

    Urban green space is a key weapon in the fight against obesity: an estimated 3.2 million premature deaths in 2012 can be attributed to lack of physical activity.

    More and more cities are planting trees to mitigate air pollution, the worlds largest single environmental health risk: 6.5 million people die each year due to everyday exposure to poor air quality.

    The use of plants in traditional medicine dates back to the beginning of human civilization. Herbal medicine has clearly recognizable therapeutic effects and plays an important role in primary health care in many developing countries.

    Common painkillers and anti-malarial treatments as well as drugs used to treat cancer, heart conditions and high blood pressure are derived from plants.

    Protected areas the successes The number of protected areas has been rising along

    with recognition of how the can enhance many of the benefits provided by nature. The proportion of the worlds surface under some form of protection is not insignificant.

    There are currently more than 215,000 protected areas now covering just under 20 million km, or 15 per cent, of the worlds terrestrial surface. Just over 15,000 marine protected areas now cover over 20 million km or 14.4 per cent of national waters and 5.7 per cent of the global ocean.

    A 2016 study showed that on average biodiversity is higher inside protected areas than outside: species richness is 10.6 per cent higher and abundance 14.5 per cent higher. Protected areas have lowered the risk of extinctions.

    One-third of the worlds 100 largest cities draw a substantial proportion of their drinking water from forest protected areas. Nearly two-thirds of the global population is living downstream of protected areas.

    Physical activity within protected areas managed by Parks Victoria in Australia has resulted in health cost savings estimated at about $150 million.

  • Pharmaceutical companies use protected areas for bio-prospecting in search of new drugs. For example, more than 400 medicinal plants have been collected from Langtang National Park in Nepal.

    Terrestrial protected areas account for approximately 20 per cent of the carbon sequestered by all land ecosystems, while restoration efforts within protected areas can aid climate change mitigation.

    Well-managed protected areas play a critical role in strategies to reduce the vulnerability of communities to the impacts of climate change in, for instance, in West Africa.

    More than 1.1 billion people depend on protected areas for a significant percentage of their livelihoods.

    Terrestrial protected areas are estimated to receive about 8 billion visits per year globally, raising awareness of the importance of conserving biodiversity and generating approximately $600 billion a year in spending.

    Protected areas experience less habitat loss than other areas. For instance, protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon have four times lower deforestation rates than non-protected areas.

    Effective marine protected areas have twice as many large fish species, five times more large fish biomass, and fourteen times the amount of shark biomass as fished areas.

    Coral cover within marine protected areas has remained constant across recent decades, while coral cover on unprotected reefs has declined.

    The return on investment in protected areas has been estimated at as much as 100:1. For instance, improving the status of all threatened species and meeting the 2020 protected area targets would cost an estimated $80 billion a year; the annual benefits of all ecosystem services has been estimated at $6-8 trillion.

    and the challenges The Aichi Biodiversity Targets aim to protect 17 per

    cent of the worlds land and inland water and 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020. The World is still 3 million km short of the land target. In national waters the global marine target has been reached but there remains a significant shortfall in marine protected areas beyond national jurisdiction (High Seas).

    An even greater area would need protection to meet the targets in an ecologically balanced way and cover areas of importance to biodiversity. In 2016, less than 20 per cent of particularly rich Key Biodiversity Areas were completely protected.

    There is significant room to strengthen the management and effectiveness of many protected areas, some of which have suffered declines in animal and plant abundance. A 2010 study found that only 22 per cent of protected areas had sound management. Sustained government support is vital.

    Protected area management effectiveness has been on state-run protected areas. This has resulted in limited understanding of the effectiveness of other forms of protected area governance (including privately and indigenous peoples/local communities. Recognizing and supporting these areas are critical. Few governments adequately reflect the value of natural capital and the ecosystems services it provides in economic planning or national accounts.

    The majority of protected areas have seen ongoing declines in plant and animal populations, although at lower rates than in surrounding areas.

    Conserving 20-30 per cent of global oceans in marine PAs could create 1 million jobs, sustain fish catch worth $7080 billion a year and provide ecosystem services with a gross value of roughly $4.56.7 trillion a year.