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Protecting the Earth Is the Least We Can Do

11/25/2013 12:28 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

Safeguarding an extraordinary ecosystem is always a conservation success. Safeguarding that success all over again is sometimes a conservation necessity.

Recently, WWF awarded its highest global accolade -- the Gift to the Earth award -- to the government and people of Namibia. The award recognized Namibia's outstanding work to develop a national network of "communal conservancies" that protect ecosystems and wildlife such as lions and zebras, while strengthening communities and economies.

This Gift to the Earth comes six years after WWF awarded the same global recognition to the First Nations, governments, foundations, and businesses that crafted the Great Bear Rainforest agreement on Canada's West Coast.

While these conservation landmarks are a world apart, their basic principles are very similar. Both protect rare and iconic wildlife, while also building sustainable economies. Both respect the crucial role of Indigenous peoples and local communities in the stewardship of lands and resources. Both are designed to advance human well-being while also protecting and growing natural capital such as healthy forests, rivers, and seas.

Large-scale conservation successes such as these are decades in the making, and serve as lessons and as inspiration for our work. Countries around the world are studying models such as the Great Bear and Namibia to see which ideas can be applied in new places.

But there is a cautionary lesson to learn, too: from one of the world's celebrated conservation success stories, the Great Bear has become an icon of ecosystems at risk. The Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal to build a crude oil pipeline and oil tanker route threatens to undo not only this extraordinary ecosystem, but also the vision of sustainability that it represents. For this reason, WWF stands with Coastal First Nations to stop the pipeline proposal and uphold the vision of a sustainable future for the Great Bear; in short, to safeguard this Gift to the Earth.

And so even as we celebrate Namibia's conservation leadership, this award is a reminder to keep our sights firmly set on our long-term work for a living planet. Individual conservation successes are important, but together they point to the need for a much bigger global conversation about how we can meet human needs while sustaining healthy ecosystems and protecting our last precious wild places. In the end, our gift to the earth can be nothing less.

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