By Faranak Bakhtiari

Half a century of Iran's ecosystem protection

June 2, 2021 - 21:46

TEHRAN – This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Department of Environment (DOE), coinciding with World Environment Day, which is celebrating half of a century of protecting the environment.

The environment and biodiversity are the valuable heritage that humans have borrowed from previous generations and should pass on to future generations, but in the meantime, human extravagance has endangered this heritage so that many plant and animal species are in danger of extinction.

Urban development, expansion of agricultural lands, large scale tree cutting, and destruction of forests under the pretext of road and dam construction, which led to subsequent drying of wetlands and rivers, extinction of plant and animal species, sand and dust storms, and the occurrence of various sea and land environmental problems.

There are no exact official statistics on the extinction of plant and animal species, but some believe that every 15 to 20 minutes, one species in the world vanishes.

Due to the increasing trend of environmental destruction, the international community thought of a solution, to designate a day as World Environment Day to draw the world's attention to the importance of the issue.

In 1972, the UN General Assembly designated June 5 as World Environment Day. The first celebration, under the slogan “Only One Earth” took place in 1974. In the following years, it has developed as a platform to raise awareness on the problems facing our environment such as air pollution, plastic pollution, illegal wildlife trade, sustainable consumption, sea-level increase, and food security, among others. 

The theme for World Environment Day 2021 is “Ecosystem Restoration”, hosted by Pakistan this year, and will see the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

In Iran, in commemoration of the World Environment Day, a week has been set with this name since June 6-12, which this year is coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Department of Environment (DOE).

Founded in 1971, the Iranian Department of Environment is a governmental organization, that is responsible for matters related to safeguarding the environment.

Currently, about 18.5 million hectares of the country's lands are under the management of the DOE, according to Kioumars Kalantari deputy chief of the DOE for natural resources and biodiversity.

To preserve the existing biodiversity over the wide geographic expanse of Iran, four types of areas have been designated for preservation and protection, including, national parks, wildlife refuges, protected areas, and natural national monuments. In 1997, the DOE held supervision over 7,563,983 hectares of such areas. By the year 2003, the supervised areas reached 11,791,788.225 hectares.

According to the latest studies, about 1,300 species of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic fish, about 30,000 species of invertebrates, and 8,000 species of plants have been identified in the country.

Unfortunately, over the past two decades, human activities have led to alarming degradation of ecosystems, deletion of genes, species, and biological capabilities; Human threats to biodiversity have accelerated the most over the past 50 years over the entire history of human life.

COVID-19 has given a fillip to biodiversity

The COVID-19 outbreak caused many problems for the world, but in return gave the planet's environment and biodiversity a chance to breathe. The high mortality rate may be worrisome, but it provided us with the opportunity to think more about how we should treat biodiversity in a better way.

The sudden prevalence of COVID-19, followed by lock-downs and restrictions around the world, reduction in human activity, the evacuation of highways, reduction in travel, air, and land transport, and a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, has benefited the nature in early months.

While, after a year, the reports claimed the increase of wood logging and illegal hunting of wildlife, which showed that human is not kind to himself anymore, as conservation is in fact the protection of ourselves and the resources without which we cannot survive.

According to experts, “the most important and largest public asset of any country is the environment”, unfortunately, due to the wrong approach and underestimation of its vital importance, its capacity is declining every day, and it cannot be exchanged or bought, although some officials, especially economists, suggest ways to price these environmental resources, they are invaluable.

Protecting environment must be brought into sharp focus

COVID-19 is nature sending us a message. In fact, it reads like an SOS signal for the human enterprise, bringing into sharp focus the need to live within the planet’s ‘safe operating space’. The environmental, health and economic consequences of failing to do so are disastrous. Now more than ever before, technological advances allow us to listen to such messages and better understand the natural world.

We can estimate the value of ‘natural capital’ – the planet’s stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources, like plants, soils, and minerals – alongside values of produced and human capital – for example, roads and skills – which together form a measure of a country’s true wealth.

Data from the United Nations Environment Program shows that, per person, our global stock of natural capital has declined nearly 40 percent since the early 1990s, while produced capital has doubled and human capital has increased by 13 percent.

For sustainable economic growth, helping to steer our leaders towards making better decisions that deliver us, and future generations, the healthier, greener, happier lives that more and more of us say we want.

From now on, protecting and enhancing our environment must be at the heart of how we achieve economic prosperity.

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