For World Environment Day this year, we are highlighting the flora and fauna at our diplomatic compounds, and efforts we undertake to protect them, in recognition of this year’s theme: biodiversity. Celebrated every year on June 5 since 1974, the United Nations’ (UN) World Environment Day brings attention to global environmental issues. This year’s theme, biodiversity, reflects a significant challenge: the UN estimates that nearly one million species are facing possible extinction due to habitat loss, wildlife trade and poaching, natural disasters, and climate change. Losing just one species can upset the entire balance of an ecosystem. Investigating the diversity of the web of life has led to advancements in medicine and food security.
For these reasons, the Department’s landscape architects and Green Teams always seek to plant native species at U.S. diplomatic facilities. Thus far, 22 embassies, consulates, and Ambassadors’ residences, plus the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia, have earned recognition as “Certified Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation. These certified landscapes provide critical habitat for local and migratory birds, allowing refuge in the heart of busy cities, and are also appreciated by Department employees who work and live there.
Embassy compounds are used as examples of how to protect biodiversity. In 2015, U.S. Embassy Manila conducted the first biodiversity survey of trees on the Embassy compound. Embassy-sponsored experts, including entomologists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Attaché, and an arborist, taught students from the nearby international school about the importance of biodiversity and created a baseline for comparison to future studies. Efforts extend outside of the compound as well, for Department employees regularly volunteer for environmental projects in the community, including caring for injured elephants and reforestation along the Thai-Burma border, installing artificial reefs, and participating in a clean-up along Baseco Beach in January 2020.
In Costa Rica, U.S. Embassy San Jose has taken extra steps to make sustainability and biodiversity a foundation of their mission. The post celebrated Earth Day 2019 and the adoption of their new Sustainability Policy by planting 50 native trees on Embassy grounds. This built upon tree planting efforts in 2018, when the Embassy Green Team replaced each non-native tree from the embassy parking lot with 10 native trees, to support local fauna. Planting native species provides food and shelter to local wildlife, including the co-evolved native pollinators, and also reduces irrigation and maintenance demands. Department employees in San Jose inaugurated an “EmbaTalks” educational program by hosting a wildlife expert from the local Ministry of Environment to speak about Costa Rica’s #StopAnimalSelfies campaign.
In the wake of Australia’s devastating 2020 wildfire season, the welfare of local ecosystems is a key concern. Scientists at the University of Sydney estimated nearly one billion animals were killed, and some species may have been driven to extinction. To support recovery efforts, U.S. Embassy Canberra Green Team members supported bushfire recovery efforts in the area through cash donations, and traveled to the LAOKO (Looking After Our Kosciuszko Orphans) Snow Mountains Wildlife Rescue to donate boxes of joey pouch liners that were sewn by a community group in Redding, California.
You can support biodiversity in your community by engaging in local conservation efforts, planting native species to help create wildlife habitat (for habitat loss is a key driver of diminishing biodiversity, worldwide, and even small changes can make a big difference), or becoming a citizen scientist with GLOBE Observer. All of these are great ways that you can “think globally, act locally.” This World Environment Day, act #ForNature and share with us how you are encouraging biodiversity in your community by tagging @StateGDI.
About the Authors: Stephanie Christel Meredith is an Eco-Management Analyst and Peter Brukx is a Pathways Intern with the Greening Diplomacy Initiative in the Office of Management Strategy and Solutions at the U.S. Department of State.