Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to an event observing World Wildlife Day, in New York today:
I am pleased to be with you today to celebrate the incredibly important, diverse and fragile world of nature. Each year, on World Wildlife Day, we focus on the crucial role the planet’s wild animals and plants play in our cultures and in the sustainability of our societies.
This is also the object of Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which highlights the importance of taking urgent action to reverse the alarming loss of biodiversity that is happening in all regions.
Biodiversity is disappearing at a thousand times the natural rate. The causes are varied, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, illicit trafficking and human-wildlife conflict. These causes are also linked, and cannot be seen in isolation from all 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.
Goal 1 is the eradication of poverty and Goal 2 is zero hunger. We see, in so many cases, that poverty, hunger and biodiversity loss are intrinsically connected. Poverty can be the cause of biodiversity loss — as we see with poaching and unsustainable land use, such as slash‑and‑burn forestry, illegal wood trade and overgrazing. And biodiversity loss, in turn, is a driver of poverty as ecosystems become depleted and unable to support lives and livelihoods. Protecting ecosystems and ensuring access to ecosystem services by poor and vulnerable groups are therefore essential to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
The conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biological diversity are an effective anti-poverty strategy. We simply must better maintain the natural resources on which billions of people depend, especially the world’s rural poor. We must work resolutely to improve biodiversity conservation and to eliminate the associated mismanagement, illicit trade, corruption and trafficking.
That is why we have Sustainable Development Goal 15 — to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. It is why we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity and — as we do today — World Wildlife Day. It is also why we work closely at all levels, especially with national stakeholders, to enhance their biodiversity conservation efforts.
For this year’s World Wildlife Day, the spotlight falls on the world’s big cats. These magnificent predators, which include species such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards and tigers, are found from Africa to Asia and the Americas. Since the earliest of times, big cats have provided a universal symbol of grace, power and elegance. We see that legacy in the branding chosen by car manufacturers and sports brands, and we see it in fashion and the beloved characters of children’s books, folklore and movies.
Yet, these charismatic creatures are increasingly in danger of extinction. Big cats have undergone a massive decline in recent times. Just over a century ago, there were as many as 100,000 wild tigers living in Asia. Today, fewer than 4,000 remain. They have lost 96 per cent of their historic range.
The story is similar for all the big cats. They say cats have nine lives. Our big cats are on at least number eight. We are the cause of their decline, so we can also be their salvation.
The Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets to end the poaching and illegal trafficking of protected species of wild fauna and flora. Last year, United Nations Member States adopted the third in a series of ground‑breaking resolutions to tackle this major cause of wildlife decline. And Governments, civil society and private sector actors around the globe are combining to translate this resolve into action. We must step up these efforts.
Big cats are keystone species. Protecting them also protects the vast habitats they live in and the wide variety of life they harbour. Big cat conservation is a gateway to protecting entire ecosystems that are crucial to the health and well-being of people and the planet.
The solution to saving big cats and all other threatened and endangered species is conservation based on sound science and the rule of law. This must always give full consideration and respect to the rights and needs of local people. When local communities and economies benefit from wildlife conservation, strategies are much more likely to succeed.
We need a new paradigm for conservation and the sustainable management of the habitats — a paradigm that acknowledges that economic growth is not in direct conflict with conservation. The two can and should coexist.
Without sustainable development of communities, poaching and illegal trade will not be fully eradicated and biodiversity will not be protected. The solutions go beyond having stringent laws and declaring national protected areas. We need new forms of partnerships among Governments, conservation groups and local communities to address wildlife conservation as a source of economic opportunity and stability. And we need people-centred and planet-sensitive economic growth strategies that support environmental protection and wildlife conservation.
Wildlife conservation is a shared responsibility. Consumers, communities, policymakers and businesses all have a role to play. On this World Wildlife Day, I urge people all around the world to help raise awareness. Let us act together to help ensure the survival of the world’s big cats and all of our planet’s precious and fragile biological diversity.