Prerecorded Statement by H.E. Mr. Volkan Bozkir, President of the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly

22 February 2021


Thank you for the opportunity to address the Fifth UN Environment Assembly, the pre-eminent forum for multilateral action on environmental issues. I extend my sincere appreciation to the Government of Kenya for hosting the Assembly, even if virtually, and for serving as the hub of UN Environment.

Ladies and gentlemen, if I may be candid: the tragic irony is that this scaled down Assembly is directly linked to humanity’s continued encroachment on the natural world. While we will, hopefully, emerge from the pandemic sooner than later; there is no certainty that we will not face further such crises in the years to come. The next zoonotic disease with the ability to spread across borders may be just around the corner.

And the warnings are all around us:

  • at our current level of use and exploitation, we would require 1.6 Earths to maintain current living standards;
  • extinction rates are around 100 to 1000 times higher than the baseline rate, and are increasing;
  • average temperature has risen 1.18 degree Celsius, with 2016 and 2020 tied as the warmest years on record;
  • and land degradation has reached 24% per year. 12 million hectares of land, an area the size of Benin, are lost.

We have a fundamental and existential choice to make: continue down our current path, which involves pressing demands on a planet whose capacity  cannot meet our needs as is; or we adjust our behaviours, however inconvenient that may be, to find some sort of harmony and balance with the world around us.

And this is very much the time to act. With recovery from COVID-19 unlocking unparalleled resources, and with public and political will at an all-time high, we have the opportunity to pursue true, transformational change.

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as our compass, we can recover better from COVID-19, we can turn this tragedy into an opportunity to pursue a world that is more resilient, more equitable, and more sustainable.


This year we will have three COP-level events on the environment, covering biodiversity, land degradation and drought, and climate. I am pleased to say that the General Assembly will support each of these engagements, and a series of High-Level meetings, including one on ‘Water’ in March, and another on ‘Desertification, Land degradation and Drought’ in May, will aim to build political support. The latter event will also make clear the need to build momentum from the end of the Decade to Fight Desertification to the beginning of the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.  I trust you will join me in emphasizing the urgency of action and the importance of these events in building global consensus.

I thank you for your time and wish you success in your discussions.