Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly, in Nairobi today:
Let me first express my deepest condolences to the Government of Ethiopia and the bereaved relatives of those from many nations who lost their lives in last week’s tragic air crash. As we know, a number of the passengers were colleagues from the United Nations family. Several were headed here for this Assembly, travelling to Nairobi to pursue their life’s work – to ensure that we live on a safe and sustainable planet. I join you all in sorrow. And I join you all in solidarity and resolution to finally turn the tides toward ambitious policies that enable strong economies and protect our health and our planet.
Now in its fourth year, this Assembly has grown from strength to strength in highlighting and proposing solutions to some of the most important environmental challenges of our time. We continue to count on the wisdom of this body because globally our environment is under extreme pressure. We are at an unprecedented turning point for our planet and this United Nations Environment Assembly is an opportunity to change the trajectory — from one of impacts and loss to one of solutions and action.
The focus of this United Nations Environment Assembly is on innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production. Today, I would like to highlight the solutions and innovations we need across three key themes:
1. Sustainable consumption and production and supply chains;
2. Biodiversity loss and conservation; and
3. Climate change.
First let’s look at our patterns of consumption and production — the focus of this Assembly. In 2017, resources extracted from the Earth reached 90 billion metric tons. Less than 10 per cent of those resources were recycled back into the economy. Millions of tons of plastic are flowing into our oceans, with devastating consequences for marine life. Every day we live with the shortcomings of a linear economic model based on “Take, Make and Dispose”.
These shortcomings are exemplified by the way we produce, use, and discard mobile phones. I am sure everyone here has one. These phones that we all use are typically built with at least 60 different metals, from graphite to silicon. Extraction of many of these metals is extremely harmful to the environment and to the people and communities involved in the extraction. Meanwhile, at the other end of the production and consumption chain, some 45 million tons of electronic waste — worth about $55 billion — are generated every year. And this figure is growing, with less than 20 per cent today recycled or reused.
Rising levels of discarded electronic waste pose risks to human health and climate change — seeping toxins into soil and water tables, affecting the quality of water we drink, and emitting methane, which contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Our solution to break out of these unsustainable cycles of consumption and production is clear: we must change our perception that economic progress requires a depletion of natural resources.
Inspiring actions by civil society, governments at all levels and corporations show us that we can in fact achieve greater economic benefits from innovative approaches to how we eat, purchase, travel, and discard waste. For example, the Te Maeu project in the Kiribati Islands provides families with a unique hydroponic system to make food without soil. Large hotel chains such as Hilton have recently committed to reduce water consumption and waste by 50 per cent. And countries are beginning to entirely eliminate single-use plastics — Costa Rica intends to phase them out by 2021 and India by 2022.
These are just a few examples of the transitions we need to more sustainable consumption and production habits. We must focus on creating products with few components and products that last — rather than tossing them after a single use. We must ensure that every broken, discarded or depleted product can be recycled or reused rather than ending up in a landfill or on the side of a road. And we must support the regrowth of all renewable resources to ensure that they are available for future generations. We must, in effect, create a circular economy.
Second, I would now like to turn to biodiversity loss, which is also linked to our unsustainable consumption and production habits. Our use of land and resources to fuel our economy leads to the destruction of vital ecosystems and habitats. In fact, a report released here earlier this week finds that the extraction and processing of resources is responsible for a staggering 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress globally. Since 1970, the extent of wetlands in Europe and Central Asia has declined by 50 per cent. And around 40 per cent of land in Western Asia is at risk of desertification.
The potential impact on health, economy and society of ongoing biodiversity loss is tremendous. For example, the economic value of nature in the Americas is estimated at approximately $24.3 trillion annually. Solutions are available to safeguard ecosystems and the biological diversity of this planet. We need innovative solutions to manage protected areas, and we need to promote more sustainable use and management of terrestrial and aquatic resources.
For example, in South Africa, a tax break is being tested which benefits landowners who declare protected areas on their land. In India, a women’s farmer group is working to conserve traditional crops using seed banks and traditional farming practices. And biodiversity enterprise funds continue to grow in number, investing in small and medium enterprises and cooperatives which prioritize conservation.
My third point today — looming above all of our work — is climate change, which threatens our natural ecosystems, our agriculture, our economies, our health and our security. Climate change, too, is linked to our unsustainable consumption and production habits. We learned this week that 53 per cent of emissions are caused by the extraction and processing of resources.
Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we have only 12 years to change course. Otherwise we will endure irreversible consequences. So the time is now to take a big ambition leap. In Katowice, countries adopted a rulebook to guide their efforts to combat climate change and move towards greater ambition. We now have a comprehensive legal framework to implement the Paris Agreement, adopted by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and welcomed by local authorities and the private sector. And on 23 September this year, the Secretary-General will convene a climate action summit in New York to reinforce the ambition call and to urge us to accelerate climate action.
We need ambition and we need speed. The Secretary-General is calling on leaders to come to the Summit not with a speech, but with a plan. A plan for reducing emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and reaching the goal of zero net emissions in 2050. A plan to decarbonize electricity and to finally build more sustainable infrastructure and cities. A plan to create not only “green jobs”, but decent green jobs. A plan ambitious enough, and credible enough, to convince all the people taking to the streets that they are taken seriously.
Around the world, many innovative solutions are already being developed. In Nigeria, new pilot mini-grids in five states are enabling villages to connect to reliable, zero-carbon electricity. In the United States, a company called Solidia Technologies plans to tweak the way in which concrete is made — with 70 per cent lower emissions. In Singapore, the Government has engaged in extensive greening efforts that have helped reduce energy demand, thus reducing the need for air conditioning.
The climate summit will promote the scaling up and replication of such solutions. It will raise ambition and action across the following areas: energy; industry; finance and carbon pricing; nature-based solutions; resilience and adaptation; and infrastructure, cities and local action. In addition, the summit will aim to mobilize public opinion and propose solutions to the political and social challenges that impede ambitious climate action. The summit will be a moment of global ambition and inclusive multilateralism. It will demonstrate that solutions exist and are ready to be deployed at scale by Governments and all actors. That Governments and non-governmental stakeholders have a plan to set the world on a sustainable and equitable path.
We gather here in Nairobi during a time of unprecedented urgency and need for action. Our work here this week is heavier than anyone expected. Our urgency and heaviness is compounded by the extreme loss of bright environmental leaders. Youth trailblazers who were nominated by their Government to travel to Nairobi to advocate for environmental protection and marine conservation. A staff member from [the] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who was a committed gender advocate and passionate champion of the Sustainable Development Goals and their links to the environment. And a World Bank staff member who dedicated his life to connecting people around climate change solutions — from storytelling to photography.
These environmental and climate actors — these concerned actors in our human community, and the many other victims who time does not allow me to name individually — came to Nairobi with a purpose. There are no words for these times of loss, but what we can and must do is honour these leaders in our work. We must take their work forward and bring it to light. We must remember that we are each making an impact when we commit to finding solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and climate challenges. With each new campaign, new change in our consumption patterns or fund we help start, we are making strides. I plead with you to internalize your responsibility and turn your concerns into action.
All here today, I ask you to bring young people to the centre of your work. Ask them to be rebellious in finding solutions to the way in which companies produce, to the loss of biodiversity in our world, and their national Government’s responses to climate change. In the past two days, I have been inspired by the bold partnerships, ideas and innovations that I have seen in support of the #SolveDifferent campaign.
My last point is to stress the importance of partnerships to strengthen and scale our collective work. National Governments must provide spaces to illuminate and scale this growing groundswell of action — on climate and on the environment. Make sure that you bring in city leaders to your policymaking decisions. Cities are the closest levels of government to the people and can act as innovation labs for national Government solutions.
And private sector leaders are devising some of the most ambitious commitments on environmental protection and climate action — from private equity funds dedicated to biodiversity to 100 per cent renewable-energy fuelled supply chains. Let us take these ideas and scale them so that people everywhere can see that a sustainable future is not only possible, it is happening.
We must show the world that it is not only necessary but eminently possible to reshape our global economy into one that rewards careful stewardship and punishes waste and pollution. Let us turn 2019 into the year of transformative solutions. Thank you.