UN - United Nations

09/30/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/30/2020 14:54

General Assembly: Summit on Biodiversity

Note: A complete summary of today's General Assembly meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Opening Statements

VOLKAN BOZKIR (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, said that humanity's existence on Earth depends entirely on its ability to protect the natural world around it. Yet every year, 13 million hectares of forest are lost and 1 million species are at risk of extinction. In the last 50 years, species of vertebrates - a category that ranges from frogs to elephants - have declined by 68 per cent. To continue down this path is not only to lose natural riches, but also to jeopardize food security, water supplies, livelihoods and the ability to fight disease and face extreme events. Noting that more than half the world's gross domestic product (GDP), or $44 trillion, is dependent upon nature, he said that, according to the World Economic Forum, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is among the top five threats facing the world today. He emphasized that COVID‑19, much like Zika, Ebola and HIV/AIDS, is among the 60 per cent of infectious diseases that originate from animal populations under severe environmental pressure.

'Clearly, we must heed the lessons we have learned and respect the world in which we live,' he said, describing COVID‑19 as an opportunity to do just that. A post‑pandemic green recovery that emphasizes the protection of biodiversity can lead to a more sustainable and resilient world, unlock an estimated $10 trillion in business opportunities and create 395 million jobs by 2030. This first‑ever summit should set the stage for a global movement towards urgent action on biodiversity and sustainable development and build political momentum towards the post‑2020 framework to be adopted at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) to be held in Kunming, China. 'COP15 must do for biodiversity what COP21 [twenty‑first meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Paris did for climate change' by making biodiversity a mainstream topic and putting it firmly on the political agenda, with all voices - including those of business and civil society - heard, he said.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that humanity must rebuild its relationship with nature. Deforestation, climate change and the conversion of wilderness for human food production are destroying Earth's fragile web of life, which must be healthy for current and future generations to thrive. Biodiversity and ecosystems are essential for human progress and prosperity, and central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change, yet none of the global biodiversity targets set for 2020 will be met. 'Much greater ambition is needed, not just from Governments, but from all actors in society.' Emphasizing that degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue, he said that the topic spans economics, health, social justice and human rights, and that neglecting precious resources can exacerbate geopolitical tensions and conflicts.

'By living in harmony with nature, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change and recharge biodiversity for the benefit of people and the planet,' he said. Nature‑based solutions must be embedded in COVID‑19 recovery and wider development plans, given how the preservation of biodiversity can create jobs and economic growth while also tackling the climate crisis. Economic systems and financial markets must account for and invest in nature, he added. Citing Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates, he said that the $300 billion to $400 billion required for nature is far less than current levels of harmful subsidies for agriculture, mining and other destructive industries. The international community must also secure the most ambitious policies and targets that protect biodiversity and leave no one behind, he added, stressing that nature offers business opportunities to poor communities from sustainable farming to ecotourism. He urged world leaders participating in today's summit to 'bend the curve on biodiversity loss' and send a strong signal in the run‑up to the fifteenth Conference of the Parties. 'Nature is resilient and it can recover if we ease our relentless assault,' he said.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that it was a biodiverse and hospitable planet that accommodated the emergence and evolution of the human species, providing nutrition, clean air, fresh water, natural medicines and bountiful raw materials. The world's holy books prescribe respect for each other, as well as for nature and its bounties. In the modern era, nature has been severely abused. Half the live coral cover on reefs has disappeared since the 1870s, with accelerating losses due to climate change. As the Secretary‑General has said, humanity is at war with nature and nature is fighting back. The impacts of climate change are visible and biodiversity loss will be equally devastating for the future of humanity. Loss of biodiversity increases the likelihood of zoonotic diseases and COVID‑19 is a grim reminder of the relation between humans and nature. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are interlinked and if the biodiversity goals are not achieved, most of the other goals will be difficult to realize by 2030. A new social and economic paradigm is needed that values nature more than gross national product (GNP) and per capita incomes. In promoting biodiversity goals there is a need to contain the economic greed and policy negligence that is driving humanity to destroy the planet, he said.

ABDEL FATTAH AL SISI, President of Egypt, host of the fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, highlighted the mounting recognition of emerging threats to the environment, emphasizing that the current situation requires the world to move in a coordinated manner to address obstacles to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in developing countries. 'We are facing a true challenge in our relationship with nature,' he said, underlining the common goal of living in harmony with the planet. Recalling recent multilateral efforts to work with partners in advancing biodiversity protection, he said Egypt, for its part, has supported African initiatives and prioritized related efforts, including managing basins and water resources. Such efforts have strengthened the recognition that much must be done to protect the future of the planet, he said, expressing hope that today's event would contribute to a better understanding and galvanize the necessary political will to better protect the planet.

XI JINPING, President of China, said as the world tries to emerge from the COVID‑19 pandemic, today's summit has both practical and far‑reaching significance. Noting that China will host the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, he said the acceleration of global extinction of species, loss of biodiversity and degradation of the ecosystem pose a major risk to human survival and development. As a sound ecosystem is essential to prosperity, the laws of nature must be respected and 'we need to find a way for man and nature to live in harmony', balancing economic development and ecological protection. Multilateralism must be upheld, building synergy for global governance on the environment. Faced with risks and challenges worldwide, 'countries share a common stake as passengers on the same boat,' he said. It is crucial to uphold the sanctity and authority of international rules, accent green development and recognize that biodiversity is key to achieving sustainable development, as finding development opportunities while preserving nature is 'a win‑win'. China is seeking a kind of modernization that seeks a harmonious coexistence between man and nature, with policies upholding biodiversity governance, and takes seriously its responsibilities under environmental treaties. He noted the country is ahead of schedule for 2020 targets on climate change and will aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

Panel Discussion

Participants then tuned into a 'fireside chat' panel discussion, moderated by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner, who stressed that biodiversity has as much to do with nature as it does with people: human dependence on nature, an inability to see nature's complexity and a blindness to recognizing the value of ecosystem services. Indigenous peoples, conservationists and defenders of the environment have long cautioned that, without better protecting nature, today's societies could become 'librarians of extinction'. He described it as remarkable that, for the first time since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development - or 'Earth Summit' - that biodiversity has moved to centre stage of global debate, with more than 100 countries participating in today's discussions. He asked the three panellists for their views on what science reveals about efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the levers that must be pulled to achieve the targets, and about solutions to the daunting challenges ahead.

ANA MARÍA HERNÁNDEZ SALGAR, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science‑Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, drew attention to a global assessment, which found that over 50 years, the world has lost 14 of nature's 18 contributions to processes that make human life possible. Regulating contributions - such as pollination or the capacity to regulate air quality - have been lost, as have other non‑material contributions important for people's sense of cultural identity or belonging: the production of food, fibre or energy, for example. People should care about these negative trends, she said, because they imply that the 2020 biodiversity targets will not be achieved, nor will the Mayors' 2030 Vision - especially goals related to poverty, hunger, climate, water, health, land and oceans. 'We need to listen to the science and take decisions accordingly,' she asserted.

ELIZABETH MARUMA MREMA, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, said biodiversity provides solutions to a number of Sustainable Development Goals, noting that 14 of the 17 depend on the world's variety of life, from nature‑based solutions to food to sustainable livelihoods. Continued species decline and overall biodiversity loss will prevent from countries from achieving the Goals, a fact that Governments realized when they adopted that global biodiversity goals 10 years ago. Warning that none of those objectives will be met by the end of 2020, she said COVID‑19‑induced lockdowns have reduced Government capacities to enact conservation measures and that more than 1.6 million people have lost their jobs. 'Nature is a shock absorber,' she said. Recalling a time when 'we thought we could pollute our way to wealth', she said the coronavirus offers a rude awakening that if 'we push nature into a corner', there can be zoonotic disease response. The money pumped into global economies must come with 'green strings attached', as that will allow for resetting the development path.

INGER ANDERSEN, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), advocated a scale‑up of current efforts to preserve biodiversity. 'Conservation works,' she said. 'Protection works', as does the integration of nature into urban settings. But because of unsustainable consumption and production patterns, societies are driving a planetary, climate and pollution crisis. They need to rethink how they produce and consume, and deal with food and energy systems. 'It is entirely in our hands,' she said. 'We need to restore.' Some 2 billion hectares of degraded land exist, yet only 2 per cent of it is being restored and more funding is needed. Disincentives for taking the right actions must be removed. Subsidies are being enacted in wrong places. She highlighted the importance of indigenous peoples, who are owners and managers of one quarter of the global land area. 'Safeguarding their lands is part of safeguarding biodiversity,' she said, urging that targets to be agreed in Kunming, China must be such that they can be put in place at a global, national and community scale.

PRINCE CHARLES, Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund, said that through his sustainable markets initiative, he is working with coalitions to identify and scale up solutions that aim to put nature, people and planet at the heart of the economy. He called for a form of the Marshall Plan for people and planet to advance a blue‑green recovery rooted in a new economy. As the framework for such a plan is considered, he said that several 'levers' would be key, including the implementation of effective carbon pricing. In other words, 'the polluter pays', he said. The development, implementation and scaling up of carbon capture should be accelerated, as its use and storage would provide vital assistance in the buying of time, allowing the international community to draw down carbon emissions. A credible and trusted global carbon offset market should be created. Perverse subsidies, such as those for fossil fuels, should be tackled to make biodiversity restoration possible and to transform the lives of millions of small farmers and fishermen and coastal communities around the world. These measures would shift the economy onto a more sustainable trajectory. If the balance between people and planet is to be restored, we need to invest in nature. Nature is central to all aspects of our existence. The 'virtuous circle' of nature is something the world's indigenous peoples understand only too well, and their profound wisdom should be heard.

ARCHANA SORENG, indigenous youth representative and member of the Secretary‑General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, said that her generation is witnessing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis. Indigenous practices should be nurtured and local communities empowered as main stakeholders within decision‑making structures for biodiversity conservation. 'We will be able to continue to protect biodiversity only when we feel secure,' she said, stressing the importance to respect, recognize and enforce indigenous land and forest rights. She added that approaches to conservation should be to be revisited. Expanding protected areas to cover one third of the world, as some are proposing for the post‑2020 biodiversity framework, could trigger immense human rights violations and constitute the biggest land grab in history, reducing millions to landless poverty. 'Removing us from our land is deeply colonial and environmentally damaging.' She went on to say that youth are world leaders' biggest allies to protect the planet's future, yet they remain marginalized, unrecognized and underrepresented in decision‑making spaces. More proactive steps are required to ensure intersectional and intergenerational equity. 'We are ready to work with you to reverse biodiversity loss,' she said. 'The question is, are you?'

Statements on Behalf of Groups

MOHAMED IRFAAN ALI, President of Guyana, speaking for the 'Group of 77' developing countries and China, said progress in meeting biodiversity targets, including in the Sustainable Development Goals, has been unsatisfactory. 'We are at a crossroad and we cannot be complacent,' he said, rallying participants to demonstrate the political will for a post‑2020 global biodiversity framework, which includes a strong resource mobilization component. He expressed deep concern that the effects of COVID‑19 will exacerbate biodiversity degradation and result in a substantial increase in global poverty. He thus called on developed countries to increase their financial commitment to implement the post‑2020 global biodiversity framework in developing countries. He decried that nearly 1 million species face the threat of extinction and called for greater international efforts to both counter these trends and protect ecosystems, notably forests, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It is important to remain steadfast in efforts to conclude negotiations for an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. In his national capacity, he then outlined Guyana's vision to ensure that by 2030, biodiversity is sustainably used, managed and mainstreamed in all sectors, contributing to the advancement of Guyana's biosecurity and development along a low‑carbon trajectory.

LAZARUS MCCARTHY CHAKWERA, President of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said under the Secretary‑General's Biodiversity Outlook 2020, none of the 20 targets was achieved in full and only 6 were partially achieved. Over 60 per cent of the world's coral reefs are under threat, land degradation has reduced productivity in 23 per cent of global terrestrial area, and 1 million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction, unprecedented in human history. That trend would mean losing between 30 and 50 per cent of all species this century, posing enormous risks to human prosperity and well‑being, with least developed countries likely threatened by the worst effects. Collective measures are needed to stop the ongoing devastation. However, he noted biodiversity‑related funding has stagnated in many countries, with the funding gap in 2019 standing between $598 billion and $824 billion per year, and proposed that international biodiversity public funding to least developed countries should be doubled by 2030. He further called for support in capacity‑building and technology transfer for sustainable biodiversity conservation and restoration. 'As least developed countries, we look forward to working with you all to address and resolve these discrepancies between our talk and our walk,' he said.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, President of the European Commission, said that it was telling that a pandemic was preventing the international community from meeting in person for the United Nations Biodiversity Summit. The pandemic also made it necessary to postpone the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which had been scheduled to take place in Kunming in October 2020. As President of the Commission, she presented the European Green Deal after just 11 days in office. It offers a vision and road map for making Europe the first climate‑neutral continent by 2050. In March, it proposed the first‑ever continental climate law. It then adopted the European Union biodiversity strategy for 2030 in May 2020. The strategy tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss: unsustainable use of land and sea, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and global warming. It proposes legal obligations, targets and actions, for example to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, to improve the health of European Union protected habitats and species and to bring back pollinators to agricultural lands. She called on everyone who is willing to join in with actions to halt biodiversity loss. The community of those who want to move forward is becoming bigger and stronger every day.