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As the world grapples with the catastrophic effects of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, one which has left millions of people infected, thousands dead and economies on the verge of collapse, many are drawing parallels between continued destruction of the planet and emergence of infectious diseases.

Encroachment into animals’ habitats is now at an all-time high with hunting, wildlife trade and the conversion of land for agriculture increasing the interaction between humans and wild animals. Consequently, this has increased the risk of disease transmission from one species to the other.

Studies have indeed shown a direct correlation between the destruction of nature and the emergence of novel diseases like coronavirus. A new study by scientists in Australia and the US published under The Royal Society has found that exploitation of wildlife through hunting and trade facilitates close contact between wildlife and humans.

There is further evidence that exploitation, as well as anthropogenic activities that have caused losses in wildlife habitat quality, have increased opportunities for animal-human interactions and facilitated zoonotic disease transmission.

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If this is not a clear warning of what is coming our way if we do not take corrective measures protecting our planet, then it needs to serve as a reminder of the consequences of messing with nature. It should be a wake-up call to all of us – individuals, governments, organisations – that environmental conservation should be at the core of our strategies.

If greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, over-exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation continues, there will be severe and irreversible changes for people, assets, economies and ecosystems around the world.

Sustainable living guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is the way forward for a peaceful co-existence between man, nature and its resources. This is why as we mark World Environment Day this month, we should remember the big steps we have taken over the years and the work ahead, which calls for collaboration and action from all fronts.

This year’s theme, ‘Celebrating Biodiversity’, couldn’t have come at a better time. It calls for a critical consideration of the role we play in shielding species from extinction and ensuring the thriving of their natural habitats.

Global warming, which has been identified as the major cause of climate change, is arguably the greatest threat to the survival of the entire biodiversity system. It occurs through the greenhouse effect in which Green House Gases such as Carbon II oxide, Carbon IV oxide, Methane and nitrous oxide trap heat from the sun leading to an increase in temperatures. Of these gases, carbon gases (Carbon IV oxide or Carbon II oxide) have the greatest emission rates with up to 80 per cent emission in some countries.

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According to the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research, Kenya’s fossil CO2 emissions contributed to 0.05 per cent of the world emissions with an emission of 16,334,919 tonnes in 2016. The emissions per sector included; transport (37.7 per cent), industrial combustion (19.6 per cent), power industry (17.5 per cent), non-combustion (17.4 per cent) and buildings (17.8 per cent).

Carbon footprint

This is why the conversation on carbon footprint — the amount of carbon gases released into the atmosphere as a result of activities of a particular individual, organisation or community - is important and timely. For corporates and manufacturers especially, knowledge of our carbon emissions guides in taking deliberate and calculated measures to reduce and offset these emissions.

The efforts of companies to mitigate climate change have become an analysis tool by stakeholders such as investors and partners and it’s indeed interesting to see companies taking a keen interest in the sustainability agenda by making commitments, huge investments and changes to reduce their carbon emissions.

East African Breweries, for example, recently announced a Sh22 billion investment towards solar energy, biomass power and water recovery in their processes, re-affirming their commitment to reducing carbon footprint and addressing climate change.

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Another important measure companies need to take is carbon offsetting, which is the action or process of compensating for any carbon dioxide emissions arising from industrial or other human activity. This is done by participating in schemes or initiatives designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One such initiative is afforestation activities such as tree planting, donation of tree seedlings, sponsorship of research activities surrounding trees and forest shielding and protection. KBL, for instance, has in the last one decade planted and nurtured over one million tree seedlings with an 85 per cent success rate and they have embraced partnerships in order to deliver this.

In 2018, the company partnered with Nature Kenya, Kenya forest service and Community Forest Associations to restore 250ha of Mt Kenya’s forest cover. Being Africa’s oldest environmental society, at Nature Kenya, we are keen on promoting the study and conservation of nature in Eastern Africa and believe that nature is our life support system, critical for people’s wellbeing and quality of life.

To achieve this, we seek to strategically partner with governments, corporates and individuals. Our partners comprise of companies, institutions and individuals that support the conservation of the environment and empowering of local communities.

Indeed, a thriving environment is essential for healthy living, flourishing ecosystems and the subsequent success of businesses and human activity. It is, therefore, our primary responsibility to care for the environment. A better future for nature is our ticket to sustainable businesses for years to come.

- Dr Matiku is the Executive Director at Nature Kenya. [email protected]

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