Losing Our Fellow Creatures: UN Environment Programme Launches International Poster Biennial on Biodiversity


I feel that the issue of our loss of biodiversity – the millions of species of animals, birds, plants, insects that we have the honor of sharing this Planet with – has been somewhat sidelined in the discussions on climate change. 

And yet – news stories appear almost daily that fill my heart with deep sadness. Two subspecies of the Giraffe – a beloved animal of my childhood imagination – are now officially listed as “Critically Endangered.” Every time a hurricane hits our region, we fear for the survival of small birds such as (after the most recent event, Hurricane Dorian) such as the Bahamas’ four endemic birds.

To make matters worse…a “Doomsday Clock” was unveiled this week by a group of atomic scientists. Our days on this Earth may be limited, but we appear paralyzed. In the case of the U.S. President (and many other negative forces) we appear to be stepping backwards. But we must do all we can to slow down these forces, and turn things around. If there is time.

I am a Cautious Optimist. I think. But to use the metaphor of a rip tide, something we often encounter in Jamaica – instead of fighting against it (which exhausts you) you sometimes have to ride along, parallel to the shore, until you can conquer it.

Stay calm. It’s better than drowning.

Biodiversity

As announced at COP25 in Madrid, Colombia will be co-hosting (with Germany) the World Environment Day 2020 with the theme of Biodiversity. The UN Environment Programme’s Inger Anderson states, quite eloquently:

“2020 is a year for urgency, ambition and action to address the crisis facing nature; it is also an opportunity to more fully incorporate nature-based solutions into global climate action.”

Now UNEP has launched the 16th annual International Poster Biennial, which will bring this topic into focus. Take a look at the website; the winning posters bring such powerful messages.

Do we realize that, in allowing (facilitating) the decline and eventual extinction of animals large and small, we are hastening our own extinction? We are all connected. This is one of my favorite quotes, from a former U.S. Poet Laureate:

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  • The environmental category of the 16th edition of the International Poster Biennial, hosted by Mexico for three decades, will be devoted to biodiversity
  • Artists around the world are invited to submit their posters until 15 May 2020
  • Biodiversity is the theme of the World Environment Day 2020

Mexico City, 22 January 2020 – In the spirit of harnessing the power of art to raise environmental awareness and inspire direct action, the 16th edition of the International Poster Biennial has announced a call for entries, inviting artists to submit posters under six categories, one of which is devoted to environmental issues.

The call for entries is open until 15 May 2020.

For the past 30 years, around 70,000 posters from five continents have been submitted to this exhibition, which takes place in Mexico City. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has partnered with the Biennial since 1990 to sponsor the environmental category.

This year’s edition will be devoted to biodiversity, which is the theme of World Environment Day 2020, the largest UN platform for environmental public outreach, celebrated annually on 5 June. Colombia will host the World Environment Day 2020 celebrations.

Contemporary artists from all over the world have participated in the International Poster Biennial, using their tools and creativity to describe our planet’s challenges in a way that feels relevant and urgent, and is often uncomfortable and difficult to ignore.

For instance, Maja Zurawiecka, a visual artist from Poland, used a grotesque poster of a severed human hand to portray the threats to the Bialowieza primary forest, a World Heritage site on the border between her country and Belarus.

“The message of my poster was simple: we are nothing without nature. When you cut down a tree, it is like you are cutting down your own hand. You are taking away a piece of our life on this planet,” said Zurawiecka, who won first place at the 14th edition of the competition.

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Crude Oil Pollution by XiLong Wu was one of the winners of the last Ecological Poster Competition under the theme “Towards a Pollution-Free Planet.” You can see them all here.

Some of the pressing environmental issues artists participating in the contest have addressed include, among others, biodiversity; plastic pollution; global warming; green economy and the reduction of food’s carbon footprint. In the last edition of the contest, 1,645 posters were submitted to the environmental category. The Chinese designer Yongkang Fu won first place for his piece “Living Space”, which powerfully evoked the harmful impact of plastic pollution on marine life.

2020 has been labelled as a ‘super year’ for the environment, one in which key international meetings are expected to set the agenda for environmental action over the next decade, including the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Kunming, China, and the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. The COP15 will discuss the bold proposal of protecting 30 percent of all land and sea on the planet.

One million species are at risk of extinction due to land and sea use change, pollution, climate change and overexploitation of resources, a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem (IPBES) reported in 2019.

The health of the ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, according to Sir Robert Watson, former Chair of IPBES, adding that human beings are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life.

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Mr. Leo Heileman (right) Regional Director and Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with Minister Daryl Vaz, responsible for the Environment, at the launch of a Scoping Study of Jamaica for the Green Economy in Kingston in March, 2016. How do we define Jamaica’s Green Economy in 2020? (My photo)

“This year, the theme of the biennial is more relevant than ever, since we are experiencing irreversible biodiversity loss at an unprecedented scale,” said Leo Heileman, UNEP regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We are very proud to continue this prolific partnership with the International Poster Biennial, taking place in Mexico City, one of the most vibrant cultural hubs in the Americas.”

“It takes only three seconds for our brains to preserve the memory of a good poster,” said Xavier Bermúdez, Director of the Biennial since its foundation. “The International Poster Biennial, in collaboration with UNEP, raises awareness and inspires individuals to take action by changing their lifestyles. It’s not enough to show discomfort – a good poster should also motivate people to take positive action.”

The scale of the current biodiversity breakdown is unparalleled; the IPBES report warns that more than a third of all marine mammals, more than 40 percent of amphibian species and 10 percent of insects are threatened.

“Change starts with awareness. Awareness that we are not alone on planet Earth. Awareness that all our decisions and actions have repercussions on other human beings, animals and plants,” said Fatoumata Dravé, a Canadian designer who won second place at the Biennial in 2016. Her piece, titled “Toxicité”, dealt with the devastating consequences of aluminum´s production on marine life.

“I’ve always been concerned with how graphic designers could have a say on social issues,” she added. “I seized the opportunity at the Biennial to make a research-based poster on biodiversity with a message that could potentially have an impact.”

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