UN Summit on Biodiversity - General Assembly 75th Session - Part 3

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30-Sep-2020 03:28:09
Make bold environmental action central focus of post pandemic economic recovery, speakers urge as General Assembly holds first ever global biodiversity summit.

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Humankind Must Live in Harmony with Nature, World Leaders Stress, Warning One Million Species at Risk of Extinction if Current Trends Continue

The COVID‑19 pandemic is a wake‑up call to the world to halt an alarming decline in its rich biological diversity, but it is also a unique opportunity to put bold and ambitious environmental action at the heart of national post‑coronavirus economic recovery strategies as the international community strives to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals, speakers said today as the General Assembly hosted the first‑ever global summit ever dedicated to biodiversity.

The day‑long virtual summit — featuring pre-recorded statements by Heads of State and Government, ministers and senior officials from nearly 100 countries and international organizations — sought to build momentum ahead of the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, which was originally scheduled to be held in Kunming, China in October but was postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus. That conference aims to adopt a comprehensive post‑2020 global biodiversity framework as a stepping‑stone towards a 2050 vision of “living in harmony with nature".

Signed by 196 countries since it was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the Convention is an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. But as many speakers today acknowledged, none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets established in 2010 were met during the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity, which concludes this year.

Opening the summit, 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, while 1 million species are at risk of extinction. Meanwhile, species of vertebrates have declined by 68 per cent in the past 50 years. “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 through a post‑pandemic green recovery that emphasizes the protection of biodiversity can lead to a more sustainable and resilient world.

António Guterres, Secretary‑General of the United Nations, emphasized that the degradation of nature is not purely an environmental issue, but one that spans economics, health, social justice, human rights and geopolitical tensions and conflict. “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, adding that 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.

Xi Jinping, President of China, speaking as host of the fifteenth Conference of the Parties, said that the laws of nature must be respected. “We need to find a way for man and nature to live in harmony” in ways that balance economic development and ecological protection. He stressed the need to uphold the sanctity and authority of international rules, encourage green development and recognize that biodiversity is key to achieving sustainable development.

Prince Charles of the United Kingdom, who heads the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, called for a new Marshall Plan to advance a blue‑green recovery rooted in a new economy and a “polluter pays” principle. 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. He added that 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, agreed that indigenous practices should be nurtured and local communities empowered as main stakeholders within decision‑making structures for biodiversity conservation. She warned, however, that 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 said.

During a virtual “fireside chat” segment, speakers emphasized in detail the link between biodiversity and sustainable development. Recalling a time when “we thought we could pollute our way to wealth,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity said that COVID‑19 — a zoonotic disease — demonstrates what can happen if nature is pushed into a corner. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that people around the world need to rethink the ways in which they produce and consume. She challenged the fifteenth Conference of the Parties to come up with targets that can be implemented at a global, national and community scale. Ana María Hernández Salgar, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science‑Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, said that it is time to pay attention to negative trends, “listen to the science and take decisions accordingly”.

At the start of plenary session, Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of Guyana, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed deep concern that the impact of COVID‑19 will exacerbate biodiversity degradation and result in a substantial increase in global poverty. He called on developed countries to increase their financial commitments to implement the post‑2020 global biodiversity framework in developing countries. Steadfast efforts must also be made to conclude negotiations for an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, he added.

Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that if current trends continue, 30 and 50 per cent of all species in the world could be lost during the 21st century, posing enormous risks to human prosperity and well‑being — and with least developed countries likely threatened by the worst effects. International biodiversity public funding to least developed countries should be doubled by 2030, in addition to capacity‑building and technology transfer for sustainable biodiversity conservation and restoration, he said.

Ursula von de Leyen, President of the European Commission, said that it was telling that a pandemic was preventing world leaders from meeting in person for the United Nations Biodiversity Summit. She discussed the European Green Deal, a road map for making Europe the first climate‑neutral continent by 2050, and the European Union biodiversity strategy for 2030 that tackles key drivers of biodiversity loss — unsustainable use of land and sea, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and global warming. She called on everyone who is willing to join in with actions to halt biodiversity loss, adding that the community of those who want to move forward is becoming bigger and stronger every day.

The day‑long summit also featured Leaders Dialogues conducted via video‑teleconference. The first, focusing on addressing biodiversity loss and mainstreaming biodiversity for sustainable development, was co‑chaired by Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan. The second, on harnessing science, technology and innovation, capacity‑building, access and benefit‑sharing, financing and partnerships for biodiversity, was co‑chaired by Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment and Climate of Sweden.

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.

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