NOTABLE MOMENTS FROM 2020
When I started thinking about what to say as a send-off for 2020, I went back to read the note we published last year. There I spoke about the close of the decade, and how we broke all records, from rising temperatures, intense fires and scientific reports on the loss of nature. The decade of 2010-2020, we said, had led us to arrive at one conclusion: that actions to address climate change and the conservation of nature were more urgent than ever. 2020 was therefore the year to change course, a year to make crucial decisions for nature, climate action, and sustainable development—for and by the people.
Today, 12 months later, this urgency has not diminished, but humanity’s clear relationship with nature has become more evident. Covid-19 has not only displayed this interdependence and the effects of humanity’s actions regarding the use of nature, but it has also driven the world into one of the most challenging episodes in human history.
Undoubtedly, this year has been hard and challenging for everyone, especially due to human losses and for those whose health has been impacted by the virus or who have felt the economic crisis generated by social isolation. It has also been a period of profound learning, marked mainly by the premise that given the direct relationship between this pandemic, our lifestyle, and the exploitation of wildlife, we have to do things differently and rethink the ways that we produce and consume.
Alarm bells have been sounded in 2020; despite the suffering and pain it has brought and continues to bring for millions of people, it represents an option for real change and the opportunity to drive an economic recovery built on nature based solutions.
We are in time to stop the negative trends that have befallen us as a species. According to the World Economic Forum, the 7.6 billion people who live on the planet account for no more than 0.01% of living things, yet over the past 50 years we have caused an average reduction of 68% in the global biodiversity of known mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish, according to our 2020 Living Planet Report.
The way we produce food is extinguishing natural resources. Agriculture is responsible for 80% of global deforestation and 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, and we use about 70% of the world’s fresh water to produce what we eat. Over 50% of all agricultural land is degraded. And, as if that were not enough, we waste more than 30% of the food that we produce!
In the midst of this pandemic, we seized some opportunities to place nature at the center of global political agendas and alliances. Such is the case of The Leaders' Pledge for Nature, supported by WWF, through which more than 70 countries—including Colombia—set 10 ambitious targets to halt and reverse the loss of global biodiversity by 2030. Additionally, last month the Colombian government announced its intention to reduce its projected greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030. Ambitious climate change commitments like these are the first step; now we need to make them a reality.
After such complex months, we are not the same. We have learned to endure grief while isolated, unable to embrace each other or to accompany our loved ones at important and critical moments. We found ways to entertain ourselves in isolation, to preserve our sanity in lockdown, and to work remotely—in our case far away from the communities and territories that we have accompanied and supported for years. Without doubt, 2020 has shown us our vulnerability as a species but also our ability to act collectively to generate change.
As for our work, we found ways to ensure health and safety for our entire team and our allies and to adapt to certain limitations so that we could continue, even at a distance, with the processes underway. That is why we want to share twelve of the moments and processes that resulted from this year of challenges and lessons learned, moments that marked us in some way.
We celebrate some of them with joy, such as the distance learning processes with indigenous and campesino communities in the Amazonian Andean Piedmont, or the Whaling Commission’s recognition of the River Dolphin Management Plan. Others lead us to deeply reflect, such as the peace-building processes in protected areas and the persecution of social and environmental leaders across the country.
I have nothing left to say but to express my gratitude for all the cooperation that has made our progress and work possible. We remain firm in our intention to work hard despite the uncertainty, always looking for new opportunities. We have only one home, planet Earth, so protecting it is our only choice in life.
We wish you a calm and safe holiday season with family and friends, and hope that in 2021 we will be able together to continue building a healthier planet for all.
Sincerely, Mary Lou Higgins- Director of WWF Colombia
While the world was paralyzed by Covid-19, threats in the Amazon remained dormant yet alive, and Chiribiquete Natural National Park and its surroundings were no exception. Therefore—after assessing all the risks and following a strict biosecurity protocol to prevent the spread of the virus and possible contagion—we made every effort to ensure that the groups of environmental explorers in Caquetá and San José del Guaviare could resume their activities.
This was made possible by a monitoring process in which groups of local leaders actively work to prevent deforestation and wildfires in the heart of the Colombian Amazon.
Thanks to the work of the South American River Dolphin Initiative (SARDI)—made up by Faunagua, Omacha Foundation, Mamirauá, Solinia, and WWF—we achieved two important milestones: an open database for decision-making in the management of these freshwater kings and political backing for these decisions.
This year, we presented a proposal for the Regional Conservation and Management Plan for River Dolphins in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
We have followed the footsteps of the jaguar for more than two years using camera traps in a territory on the border of the Colombian, Ecuadorian, and Peruvian Amazon. Together with WWF Peru and Ecuador, we revealed this year the study that gathers much of the data collected these past years and the analyses carried out by the working groups in charge of this effort in community monitoring and conservation science.
The study was conducted in the Napo-Putumayo border corridor shared by the three countries, and it was published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.
Without a doubt, our work with local communities, the true guardians of territories, has been transformed during this pandemic year. But there is one aspect that has not changed; accompanying them in the protection and management of their territories continues to be a priority for us. Therefore, we sought alternatives to continue training processes in areas such as the Amazonian Andean Piedmont, a territory in the Colombian Amazon that is vital to the natural and cultural wealth of the region.
Without even suspecting that we would live through a pandemic, we were already preparing for a strategic year for nature. 2020, regarded as the "super year," was going to be decisive on international agendas. We therefore had to get the attention of the greatest possible number of people around the world to join forces and encourage countries to make strong decisions to stop temperature rise and biodiversity loss.
Generation 10, the youth network that we created this year to connect young people from all over Latin America, under the leadership of WWF Colombia, to scale up the solutions they have developed to maintain life on the planet.
Wild Wisdom, WWF's competition that finds the children and young people who know the most about biodiversity in the world. Despite the challenges that virtual education poses for teachers and students, we managed to realize the second version of this competition in Colombia, this time in a digital format that connected more than 7,000 young people across the country with our protected areas and the wealth they safeguard.
Just days before the end of the year, we received news about a change of direction in the Natural National Parks Authority, after 16 years under the leadership of Julia Miranda. So, before looking back at the road travelled in 2020, we once again want to express our enormous gratitude to Julia Miranda and her team for their tireless and committed work leading the institution. Under her leadership, the National Parks System consolidated 59 Protected Areas, five of which were recognized in IUCN’s Green List of Protected Areas for their excellent management and conservation achievements.
Indigenous peoples are key to protecting forests, the fight against climate change, nature conservation, and the provision of resources such as water. Indigenous territories in the Colombian Amazon, besides representing 54% of the region’s area, play a key role in the provision of ecosystem services, ecological connectivity, and climate regulation. They are also barriers against deforestation. Their contribution is invaluable, but it is not appreciated enough and is sometimes not even recognized.
This year we lived a historic moment. Within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly, and less than two weeks following the launch of the Global Biodiversity Outlook that revealed the world’s failure to meet any of its Aichi biodiversity targets for the decade, 77 heads of state, including President Ivan Duque, set 10 concrete targets to reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity and its effects.
At the beginning of this year, the state government of Antioquia declared a state of climate emergency. In response to this challenge, United for the Planet arose as an alliance between WWF and the departmental government.
46 institutions in the public, private, academic, and civil society sectors have joined this alliance, and together we have pledged to recover 7,800 hectares of degraded areas, to protect natural ecosystems, and to plant more than 25 million trees.
No one should die for what they do for life and the wellbeing of others. Unfortunately, this year was lethal for many of our leaders. In 2020 we received, with deep sadness, news about the death of many environmental defenders in different regions of the country, from the Awa territory in Nariño, to the Cocuy National Park. According to the Global Witness report, Colombia was the most dangerous country in the world for defenders of land and nature in 2019, and the outcast did not improve this year.