EMPOWERING YOUNG BIODIVERSITY CHAMPIONS TO TAKE ACTION
Forest conservation is not something that most would immediately associate with the city-state, Singapore. Located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore had pursued a general policy of export-oriented industrialisation since the late 1960s. This general policy was balanced by the adoption of the Garden City vision in the same period.
The Garden City plan has allowed Singapore to increase its green cover from 35.7% in 1986 to 46.5% in 2017. Despite its growing population, close to 10% of the total land area in the country is home parks and nature conservation areas. These conservation parks and botanical gardens are where Karl Png spent the weekends of his childhood:, ‘I’m always amazed by our connectivity with nature.’
It was not until 2019 that Karl had the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers through the ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme (AYBP), ‘It was a great opportunity to meet people with the same passion and to have the opportunity to discuss what we, as youth, can do’, Png said.
The ASEAN Youth Biodiversity Programme is funded by the EU through the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN project (BCAMP) to encourage and strengthen youth-led conservation projects. The project also aims to build a community of young individuals passionate about environmental issues and connect them with the right decision-makers to make a more meaningful contribution.
Inspired by his participation in the Youth Biodiversity Leaders programme of the AYBP, Png took to focusing his advocacy on saving the Dover forest.
‘The trainings sharpened my understanding of the biodiversity issues we are facing locally’, he said referring to the ongoing debate around the preservation of the Dover forest versus the need for additional public housing. ‘I think we need to start integrating the issues of nature conservation into national planning.’
As part of the Youth Biodiversity Leaders programme, in February 2020, Png has also joined the negotiations of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome, Italy.
Seeing the bigger picture also gave him a sense of belonging to the region. ‘Knowing that our efforts are interconnected makes me feel less isolated and pushes me to work harder’, he added.
Partnering with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network, the AYBP trains and encourages youths like Png to get involved in conservation-related decision-making processes at both national and international levels, such as the CBD negotiations.
‘It was an honour to be there and to see that the leaders were interested in hearing my perspective on the policies discussed’. At the negotiations, Png was able to advocate for a recurring theme from his national youth consultations: the importance of transformative education for young people which will be key to achieving the CBD’s 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature. , ‘I think we need to overcome our insatiable need to always want and consume and to dominate both nature and the people around us’, he said.
in harmony with nature. , ‘I think we need to overcome our insatiable need to always want and consume and to dominate both nature and the people around us’, he said.
This sentiment is shared by Kittikun “Bright” Saksung, a fellow Youth Biodiversity Leader from Thailand, who also participated in the event with Png. ‘Biodiversity protection is a common challenge across the ASEAN region. People are trapped in a fast-consuming cycle and don’t realise that they are losing their connection with nature’.
For Saksung, the opportunity to be surrounded by biodiversity experts and leaders provided him with the feeling of endless possibilities. ‘I can see what the adults are doing and what we, as young people can bring to the table’, he said. ‘It makes me hopeful that we can save our biodiversity.’
As for Png and his efforts to preserve the Dover Forest, the issue has recently been raised in parliament, and the government has extended the public consultation period till the beginning of March to find a suitable solution for the future of the forest.
‘It feels like I have spent every day of my life preparing for that one moment that can make all the difference’, he said referring to his lobbying efforts with the parliament. ‘It may seem small to others, but this is definitely a win for us.’
Both Png and Saksung are actively encouraging youths around them to be more aware of the environment and related biodiversity issues. ‘It is my generation and those who come after us that will bear the consequences of today’s actions. So, is it too much to dream of living in harmony with nature?’, Png added.