Press Conference to Announce Appointment of Actor Edward Norton as United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity

8 July 2010

Press Conference to Announce Appointment of Actor Edward Norton as United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity

8 July 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Announce Appointment of Actor Edward Norton


as United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity


Acclaimed actor Edward Norton, the newly appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for biodiversity, said today that the key challenge of his new role as advocate for species protection and environmental preservation would be making people more aware that human well-being is fundamentally intertwined with biological diversity.

“People have a tendency to think of themselves as separate from nature [and tend to more readily] connect with refugee crises, for instance,” the two-time Academy Award-nominated actor said at a Headquarters press conference.  He noted, however, that catastrophic events like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatened to wreck local fishing communities, could connect people to the ways in which the preservation of biological diversity and ecosystems could directly improve human well-being.

“So a Goodwill Ambassador’s job is to raise awareness and perhaps provide examples of the good work around the world being done by the Global Environment Facility, for instance,” Mr. Norton said of the United Nations-backed mechanism that brings together the Governments of 182 Member States — in partnership with international institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector — to address environmental issues worldwide.  The aim was to present compelling examples that world leaders could adopt and put into action for the benefit of their own people and countries.  “That’s something I feel I can contribute to,” he added.

The 40-year-old actor said that for people of his generation, environmental issues and the connection between human well-being and the web of biodiversity “is incontestably the defining challenge of our era”.  Indeed, when historians looked back on the early part of the twenty-first century, “they will not judge us on how we handled political hot-button issues, but will asses the era on how we respond to this particular challenge.  As a generation, we have to take up this issue as our cause.”

Highlighting the urgency of the challenge was Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, who said that United Nations studies had revealed that the planet’s biodiversity was vanishing at an alarming pace, with species disappearing at more than 1,000 times the natural rate.  That statistic was sure to get worse, as scientists predicted that plant and animal species in the tens of thousands — including 1 in 8 of world bird species — could be facing extinction.

Echoing Mr. Norton, he said that, among other things, Goodwill Ambassadors helped raise awareness and expand public understanding of a broad range of issues before the United Nations.  They also showed how the Organization helped to improve the lives of people everywhere.  He said that Mr. Norton, appointed to mark the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity, would focus on the importance of conserving biological diversity for a healthy planet and global economy.

Mr. Akasaka recalled that for years the young actor had demonstrated concern for the issue, for example by dedicating himself to preserving lands in Kenya through his involvement with the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.  He had also played a key role in providing shelter for families in his own country through a non-profit organization founded by his grandfather, which provided affordable and environmentally sound housing for communities across the United States.

Also at the press conference was Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, who agreed that with species disappearing at such unprecedented rates, the news about the state of the planet’s biodiversity “is not good”.  He added: “We are reaching the tipping point, where unprecedented and irreversible damage is going to be done.  We need an urgent call to action.”  In that context, he said, the General Assembly would hold its first-ever meeting on biodiversity, at the Heads of State level, on 22 September, the eve of the general debate of its sixty-fifth session.

Asked what impact his “star power” would have, Mr. Norton said: “I don’t flatter myself to think that things will change immediately just because I’m involved.  But by raising public awareness and helping people connect the dots, […] that’s a communication challenge where I think I can help.  And the more informed people are, the better they can express to their leadership the kinds of choices they want.”

He went on to say that he did not really plan to draw on his skills as an actor “because there are just some issues that we are facing as a global community that transcend what you do in your daily life […] that we need to connect with as world citizens”.  Indeed, comprehension and education were sometimes about people hearing a narrative they could understand, “and [beyond being an actor] I think through my experience I can articulate a compelling story about biodiversity”, he added.

Asked what steps individuals could take to help ease the biodiversity crisis, Mr. Norton said it was easy to talk about energy efficiency, or curbing pollution and toxic waste, but it was more difficult to highlight concrete steps.  Yet one “very real and tactile” thing that most people could and should do on their own, and that would have an immediate impact, was to eliminate their use of plastic bags and bottles, he noted, warning: “The way we are delivering plastics into the ecosystem is having pretty devastating effects.”

At the same time, Mr. Norton emphasized that many other issues, like deforestation and ocean acidification, would be very difficult to translate and, at any rate, their complexity meant that they would have to be tackled by intergovernmental organizations through international agreements.  “That boils down to leadership and how citizens communicate with their leaders to make sure their priorities are highlighted,” he said.

For further information, see Press Release Note No. 6266.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.