Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources of Iceland

02/23/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/23/2021 04:35

Ávarp Guðmundar Inga Guðbrandssonar, umhverfis- og auðlindaráðherra, á UNEA-5

Address at the Fifth UN Environmental Assembly

Mr. Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Iceland

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The environmental and associated social and economic challenges we face in the 21st century are immense. Many are truly global by nature and need coordinated action.

So allow me to address a few issues that I think we should continue to work on, even in these trying circumstances, and put into effect through UNEA and other venues as soon as we can.

First, a few words on plastic pollution.

  • We need a global agreement
  • We need it because of the integrated nature of global production and consumption,
  • But we need it especially because of the effect plastic pollution has on our oceans. Islands of rubbish are forming in mid-ocean gyres. Microplastics are found in remote Arctic waters, in deep ocean trenches, and in fish, seabirds and ocean invertebrates just about anywhere.

The Nordic Council of Ministers has commissioned a report outlining possible elements of a global agreement on plastic pollution. So, we have a suggested pathway to guide us into international co-operation on plastic pollution. Let´s not waste this opportunity. Let´s act. Let´s act for future generations and biodiversity for our planet. I hope that we can use our time wisely over the next year and be ready to take bold steps when we meet in 2022.

Second, I´d like to talk about synergies. The environmental agenda is spread around the UN system, with specialized treaties and instruments tackling specific threats and issues. It is good to have focused instruments, but they must also reinforce each other. And what we need to do is to better align goals. We need actions that support several goals at the same time.

Pledges and commitments of the international community have not been met yet. This is true for climate and biodiversity alike. One way forward is to increase synergies between the Rio Conventions on climate change and biodiversity. And let´s be more hopeful now as there have been encouraging signs on climate change in recent months from most major emitters. Iceland has also pledged to strengthen our emissions target and increase our efforts. Next is to move more boldly on biodiversity worldwide.

But can we find actions that support both climate and biodiversity goals at the same time? Yes, we can. Nature-based solutions for climate mitigation can also help to conserve and restore ecosystems, and for climate adaptation. Iceland has recently taken big steps to increase efforts in revegetation, restoration of forests and drained wetlands as well as afforestation. This year, we are announcing further steps in this direction. By doing this, we simultaneously restore degraded ecosystems and soak up carbon from the atmosphere, while getting closer to our national goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2040.

Globally, we need to conserve the great carbon sinks of the world, which are also the main remaining biodiversity hotspots on our planet. We also need to align the UN Convention on combatting desertification in this task.

UNEP is where we can discuss synergies and identify programs and actions that provide win-win outcomes for the environment and sustainable development. Let us do that. Let us work for our planet. Let´s work for our people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Lastly, let me say a few words on civil society. Governments need to act, at home and collectively, but we need to tap the vast energy of civil society - of NGOs, business, municipalities and others. We need the wisdom of science to guide us and the energy of youth to push us.

We need vision. We need values and we need hope. We need reason, but also our hearts to guide us. Our values are often shaped by our faith. The faith community has in recent years taken greater interest in matters related to the environment and sustainable development. Iceland hosted with UNEP and others a conference last autumn, entitled Faith for Nature. Faith-based organizations from all over the world have been discussing environmental issues for some time, and this discourse is gaining momentum. I believe UNEP could enhance it, inter alia by a resolution adopted by UNEA in 2022. I ask for your help in making that happen.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish all of us good luck in fighting the pandemic, which has taken a terrible toll on lives and caused disruption around the globe. I wish us the best in the coming recovery. Let us make it a green recovery, where we strengthen our resolve and efforts for environmental protection and sustainable development. For our people. And for our planet.