After an exceptionally challenging year for biodiversity conservation across the world because of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union, environmentalist and Academy Award -winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) launched two initiatives to better protect the planet in 2021 worth € 34 million.
Both initiatives -a Rapid Response for Ecosystems, Species and Communities Undergoing Emergencies (Rapid RESCUE) and an initiative to safeguard Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo- exemplify the EU’s commitment to delivering the EU’s Green Deal around the world and GWC’s mission to conserve the diversity of life on Earth.
Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, stated: “Biodiversity is under threat all over the world; the ongoing pandemic has only highlighted even more that protecting precious ecosystems is crucial for wildlife to flourish. Our own existence depends on this. I am glad GWC with Leonardo DiCaprio and the European Union are teaming up to increase our efforts in protecting biodiversity and securing a green recovery for people and planet after the COVID-19 crisis.”
Leonardo DiCaprio said: “This year has shown that we are at a critical turning point for our planet and that we must choose to protect and restore wildlife and ecosystems, for their sake and for our own health. The current pandemic, devastating fires in the Amazon, Australia, the Congo, the larger and more frequent hurricanes in the Caribbean, and other environmental crises have shown that we must reset our relationship with nature. I am honored to work with Commissioner Urpilainen, the EU, and GWC to establish this Fund to implement urgent conservation actions around the world.”
Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist and CEO, Global Wildlife Conservation, commented: “Our planet’s biodiversity underpins healthy ecosystems, which are essential to a healthy planet for people and wildlife. Only by investing in nature-based solutions, as GWC and the European Commission are doing, can we tackle the twin crises of wildlife extinction and climate change, and prevent future pandemics. The EU is helping lead the way in these global efforts.”
With a budget of € 30 million (EU € 10 million and GWC € 20 million) a Rapid Response for Ecosystems, Species and Communities Undergoing Emergencies (Rapid RESCUE) will provide a rapid response to emerging biodiversity threats. A major focus will be to reduce the impacts of future emergencies, like those caused by the current pandemic, on ecosystems critical to the planet’s health, protected areas and surrounding vulnerable communities.
GWC’s expertise in biodiversity protection and its experience working with rangers, local communities and Indigenous people allows fast interventions to protect threatened species and respond to the impacts of unforeseen events like the current COVID-19 crisis.
Well-managed protected areas are critical to the local communities living in and around them, and for the planet as a whole. They provide sustainable livelihoods and support sustainable economies, they bring clean air and water, stabilize local climates, and can help protect people from zoonotic diseases. They also ensure that healthy ecosystems are in place to support a healthy planet, resulting in a better future for people and wildlife.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
GWC and the EU will provide € 4 million to preserve the Virunga National Park, which is the most biodiverse protected area on the African continent. This action will expand the operational capacity of Virunga National Park, supporting great new strides in habitat restoration and furthering the Park’s role in economic growth, peace and stability in eastern DRC.
GWC will provide support to the Park through its technical expertise, particularly in conserving monkeys and apes, and lead scientific and technical advancement, such as via a technical expert committee. This committee will inform and help guide the reintroduction of eastern lowland gorillas, a threatened species, back into the Park.
Virunga is home to the famed mountain gorilla, which has bounced back from the brink of extinction but whose future is once again endangered, and more species of birds, reptiles, and mammals than any other protected area in Africa. The park earned international acclaim thanks to a 2014 Oscar-nominated investigative documentary, VIRUNGA, which tells the story of the individuals leading the fight to protect the park and the primary threats to its existence. Mr DiCaprio served as executive producer.
EU total funding for biodiversity through international cooperation reached € 1.67 billion in the decade up to 2016. For the funding period 2014-2020, the EU has earmarked up to € 1 billion for biodiversity and ecosystems, including wildlife conservation.
An important share of this contribution provides EU partner countries with support to manage protected areas, for example to maintain elephant populations in Africa and Asia range states and prevent poaching. A significant part of it was also spent on sustainable forest management, including efforts to combat illegal logging and prevent deforestation.
The EU is Virunga National Park’s longest and most important donor. The amount of EU grants for ongoing actions is € 83 million since 2014. This support goes to the operation of the Park, to the hydro-electrification of North Kivu and to the development of sustainable agricultural practices. These activities have contributed to create 2,500 direct jobs, 4,200 jobs in connected SMEs and 15,000 indirect jobs in value chains.
By supporting infrastructure reconstruction and increasing security in the park, as well as putting in place a training program for rangers and park managers, the EU has also helped the resumption of tourism in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a positive impact on job and resources creation (about € 1.6 million fees per year before COVID-19).
Ecotourism is a vital source of revenue for governments, local communities and protected areas. With the COVID-19 crisis, the parks lost tourists, and are not able to pay for staffs’ salaries, leaving these critical places and the wildlife that lives there unprotected. This can lead to a dramatic increase in illegal and environmentally destructive activities, such as poaching, mining, cattle ranching, and wildlife trafficking.
GWC, a leading organization in biodiversity conservation and restoration, identifies places critical to the health of the planet and the persistence of biodiversity and people (park staff, local populations and communities) in and around protected areas that need urgent support following a crisis or unforeseen event. Recent examples of GWC’s rapid response initiatives include supporting local partners in the midst of the 2019 catastrophic fires across the Amazon. Their team of primatologists and protected area management experts brings considerable great ape conservation and research experience.
Mr DiCaprio has been a long-time champion of global environmental issues including climate change, wildlife conservation, protecting biodiversity and more. He co-founded Earth Alliance, an organization created to activate and mobilize a global response to the urgent threats that our planet is facing. To date, through his philanthropic efforts, Mr DiCaprio has provided more than US $ 100 million in grants to a variety of programs and projects.