“All our efforts to defeat poverty and pursue sustainable development will be in vain if environmental degradation and resource depletion continue unabated.”
- Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General
Development and the environment are inextricably linked. As the ‘developed’ world has industrialised, it has put huge pressure on the natural world, and the result has been, in many cases, catastrophic. Pollution, extinction of rare species, and draining of resources are all characteristics of a rapidly developing economy. In recent decades, however, there has been a realisation that development must be sustainable; if we are to achieve and maintain improvements in living standards, we must also respect our environment. The world’s poorest people are also amongst the worst affected by climate change and energy scarcity, and therefore the challenge the challenge of development is to find solutions to enable fragile communities to balance human development and environmental conservation.
There is a wide range of organisations working in this field, from those that concentrate on protecting a single species, to those that educate the public on environmental issues through campaigns and community projects. Conservation organisations are often dedicated to a single area or species, combining research with efforts to ensure that a particular area is protected from development. Alternatively, they might work directly with local communities to promote sustainable management of natural resources. Government advocacy, public campaigns and community programmes can all be used to achieve these aims, which are ultimately essential for conserving the bio-diversity of our planet.
Environmental education organisations are knowledgeable about how best to respond to threats to the environment, and their role, therefore, is to convey that knowledge to the relevant people, whether they are local communities, school children, government officials or visitors. They might, for example, spend time educating fishermen about how to maintain fish stocks, promote organic agriculture, or give tourists information about how to minimise their impact on sensitive environments; the message is determined by the nature of the environment, but the objective is the same – to ensure that people understand how and why they should look after their environment.
Climate change adaptation is a new, growing and important area. Poor communities around the world, many of whom live in marginal circumstances, will be disproportionately affected by climate change, which has the potential to reduce the productivity of the land and bring about more extreme weather. Organisations in this field can help communities and governments to adapt to climate change by bringing specialist knowledge and new technology to bear. This could include, for example, the installation of sustainable energy systems or expert advice about how to maintain crop yields.
What our volunteers do
The environmental field calls for people with variety of skills. Our volunteers could find themselves using specialist knowledge to help conserve a rare species, managing the growth of an organisation, or helping to communicate a complex message. In all cases, they will be making an important contribution to an important field and gaining valuable skills for the growing environmental sector.