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Global sustainability expert Patricia Zurita shared insights on the critical role of local communities in achieving long-term global conservation

03 November 2017 | Education , Community
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The fifth annual Asia Environment Lecture (AEL) was held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) today. Ms Patricia Zurita, a world leader in global scale biodiversity conservation, delivered the keynote lecture on “Birds, Humans and Our Sustainable Future”. Organised by NUS and co-hosted by the National Parks Board (NParks) and City Developments Limited (CDL), the event was attended by policy makers, environmental practitioners, Faculty members and students.

Ms Zurita is the Chief Executive Officer of BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, bringing together 120 organisations from 118 countries worldwide. She was also the former Executive Director of the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, where she developed multi-million dollar strategic partnerships enabling civil society to participate in, and benefit from conserving some of the world’s most critical ecosystems. Ms Zurita is the first woman from the developing world to lead an international conservation organisation.

In her lecture, Ms Zurita shared how birds and their flyways illustrate world connectivity and show a path to conservation. She also explained how the journeys of birds and the decline in the migratory bird population provide insights into the environmental health of the planet. She emphasised how challenges such as climate change and land reclamation can only be addressed through collective action. 

Noting the importance of empowering local communities to support the global agenda of addressing topical environmental challenges, Ms Zurita said, “Birds are nature’s messengers, and not only they tell us how the planet is doing – like the canary in the coal mine – but those that migrate, like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, teaches us the world is one: country borders are just lines on the map. Nature, like these birds, can be saved, only if local people, with local expertise, join their forces to work together for global solutions. And the problems nature faces are similar to many others we are dealing with (i.e. climate change, security) and require the same recipe: understanding that the problem is global, and the solutions for a better, healthier planet for nature and people are local.”

Ms Zurita also highlighted BirdLife's conservation reach and local-to-global partnerships, which provided timely and relevant insights into Singapore’s biodiversity conservation efforts. As a small, densely populated urban city with no natural resources, Singapore’s sustainable development policies and expertise are made possible by engaging stakeholders, including private, public and people sectors, to encourage active participation in the stewardship of the environment, and strengthening international collaborations to address biodiversity issues that cut across sectors and transcend national boundaries. 

Associate Professor Edward Layman Webb, Director of the NUS Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme said, “This year’s lecture, the fifth in this series, focused on the miracle of bird migration and how their journey can reflect the wellbeing of our planet. The lecture will enable us to better address the environmental challenges of our time, and help connect people beyond borders based on shared heritage, human empathy and a collective vision of the future.”

Dr Lena Chan, Senior Director of International Biodiversity Conservation, NParks, said, “We welcome Ms Zurita’s visit to Singapore and the sharing of her insights on the critical role of local communities in global bird conservation. Singapore has been an active partner of the East Asian-Australasia Flyway Partnership since 2006. The long-term science-based monitoring approach that NParks has adopted, including bird-banding and use of geolocators and transmitters to track movements of migratory birds passing through Singapore, has helped contribute to data on the Flyway.”

She added, “Our volunteers and citizen scientists also collect biodiversity data during BioBlitzes and bird counts such as Heron Watch and Garden Bird Watch, which are held twice yearly at sites all across Singapore. With such invaluable data collection by both NParks and the community, we hope to contribute to bird conservation not just in Singapore, but through the region and globally as well.”

Ms Esther An, CDL Chief Sustainability Officer, said, “CDL is glad to be a corporate partner of the Asia Environment Lecture for the third year now to advocate the importance of environmental conservation. This is an excellent platform for knowledge sharing by world leaders of sustainability to inspire greater environmental stewardship and green solutions.”

She added, “As a developer, CDL is deeply rooted in our commitment to mitigate the impacts of our developments on the natural habitats of wildlife and to protect biodiversity. Since 2010, CDL has practised Biodiversity Impact Assessments for new construction sites on a voluntary basis. This helps to determine if any plant or animal life of national conservation importance exists at the intended development site and to make recommendations for environmental mitigation if necessary.”

The 5th AEL was chaired by Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who has received international recognition for his environmental contributions. Prof Koh also chairs the Advisory Committee for the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law at the NUS Faculty of Law (APCEL) and the NUS Master of Science in Environment Management (MEM) programme.

The Asia Environment Lecture

The Asia Environment Lecture is an annual event initiated by two NUS multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary environment programmes – the MEM and the BES – and APCEL at the NUS Faculty of Law (NUS Law).

The APCEL was established in 1996 and was the first centre to be set up by NUS Law. APCEL members play a leading role in environmental law education at the national, regional and global levels and serve on the governing board of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law. 

In 2001, NUS started the MEM programme, which is jointly offered by nine faculties and schools at NUS. The programme is hosted by the NUS School of Design and Environment, in collaboration with the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), Engineering, Law and Science; NUS Business School, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. The BES programme was launched in 2011 and is co-hosted by FASS and Faculty of Science, in collaboration with the same faculties and schools that are involved in the MEM programme. 

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