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.
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.
Participants then tuned into a “fireside chat” panel discussion, moderated by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner, who stressed that biodiversity has as much to do with nature as it does with people: human dependence on nature, an inability to see nature’s complexity and a blindness to recognizing the value of ecosystem services. Indigenous peoples, conservationists and defenders of the environment have long cautioned that, without better protecting nature, today’s societies could become “librarians of extinction”. He described it as remarkable that, for the first time since the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development — or “Earth Summit” — that biodiversity has moved to centre stage of global debate, with more than 100 countries participating in today’s discussions. He asked the three panellists for their views on what science reveals about efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the levers that must be pulled to achieve the targets, and about solutions to the daunting challenges ahead.
ANA MARÍA HERNÁNDEZ SALGAR, Chair of the Intergovernmental Science‑Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, drew attention to a global assessment, which found that over 50 years, the world has lost 14 of nature’s 18 contributions to processes that make human life possible. Regulating contributions — such as pollination or the capacity to regulate air quality — have been lost, as have other non‑material contributions important for people’s sense of cultural identity or belonging: the production of food, fibre or energy, for example. People should care about these negative trends, she said, because they imply that the 2020 biodiversity targets will not be achieved, nor will the Mayors’ 2030 Vision — especially goals related to poverty, hunger, climate, water, health, land and oceans. “We need to listen to the science and take decisions accordingly,” she asserted.
ELIZABETH MARUMA MREMA, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity, said biodiversity provides solutions to a number of Sustainable Development Goals, noting that 14 of the 17 depend on the world’s variety of life, from nature‑based solutions to food to sustainable livelihoods. Continued species decline and overall biodiversity loss will prevent from countries from achieving the Goals, a fact that Governments realized when they adopted that global biodiversity goals 10 years ago. Warning that none of those objectives will be met by the end of 2020, she said COVID‑19‑induced lockdowns have reduced Government capacities to enact conservation measures and that more than 1.6 million people have lost their jobs. “Nature is a shock absorber,” she said. Recalling a time when “we thought we could pollute our way to wealth”, she said the coronavirus offers a rude awakening that if “we push nature into a corner”, there can be zoonotic disease response. The money pumped into global economies must come with “green strings attached”, as that will allow for resetting the development path.
INGER ANDERSEN, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), advocated a scale‑up of current efforts to preserve biodiversity. “Conservation works,” she said. “Protection works”, as does the integration of nature into urban settings. But because of unsustainable consumption and production patterns, societies are driving a planetary, climate and pollution crisis. They need to rethink how they produce and consume, and deal with food and energy systems. “It is entirely in our hands,” she said. “We need to restore.” Some 2 billion hectares of degraded land exist, yet only 2 per cent of it is being restored and more funding is needed. Disincentives for taking the right actions must be removed. Subsidies are being enacted in wrong places. She highlighted the importance of indigenous peoples, who are owners and managers of one quarter of the global land area. “Safeguarding their lands is part of safeguarding biodiversity,” she said, urging that targets to be agreed in Kunming, China must be such that they can be put in place at a global, national and community scale.
PRINCE CHARLES, Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, said that through his sustainable markets initiative, he is working with coalitions to identify and scale up solutions that aim to put nature, people and planet at the heart of the economy. He called for a form of the Marshall Plan for people and planet to advance a blue‑green recovery rooted in a new economy. As the framework for such a plan is considered, he said that several “levers” would be key, including the implementation of effective carbon pricing. In other words, “the polluter pays”, he said. The development, implementation and scaling up of carbon capture should be accelerated, as its use and storage would provide vital assistance in the buying of time, allowing the international community to draw down carbon emissions. A credible and trusted global carbon offset market should be created. 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. These measures would shift the economy onto a more sustainable trajectory. If the balance between people and planet is to be restored, we need to invest in nature. Nature is central to all aspects of our existence. 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, said that her generation is witnessing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis. Indigenous practices should be nurtured and local communities empowered as main stakeholders within decision‑making structures for biodiversity conservation. “We will be able to continue to protect biodiversity only when we feel secure,” she said, stressing the importance to respect, recognize and enforce indigenous land and forest rights. She added that approaches to conservation should be to be revisited. 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 went on to say that youth are world leaders’ biggest allies to protect the planet’s future, yet they remain marginalized, unrecognized and underrepresented in decision‑making spaces. More proactive steps are required to ensure intersectional and intergenerational equity. “We are ready to work with you to reverse biodiversity loss,” she said. “The question is, are you?”
Statements on Behalf of Groups
MOHAMED IRFAAN ALI, President of Guyana, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said progress in meeting biodiversity targets, including in the Sustainable Development Goals, has been unsatisfactory. “We are at a crossroad and we cannot be complacent,” he said, rallying participants to demonstrate the political will for a post‑2020 global biodiversity framework, which includes a strong resource mobilization component. He expressed deep concern that the effects of COVID‑19 will exacerbate biodiversity degradation and result in a substantial increase in global poverty. He thus called on developed countries to increase their financial commitment to implement the post‑2020 global biodiversity framework in developing countries. He decried that nearly 1 million species face the threat of extinction and called for greater international efforts to both counter these trends and protect ecosystems, notably forests, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It is important to remain steadfast in efforts to conclude negotiations for an international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. In his national capacity, he then outlined Guyana’s vision to ensure that by 2030, biodiversity is sustainably used, managed and mainstreamed in all sectors, contributing to the advancement of Guyana’s biosecurity and development along a low‑carbon trajectory.
LAZARUS MCCARTHY CHAKWERA, President of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said under the Secretary‑General’s Biodiversity Outlook 2020, none of the 20 targets was achieved in full and only 6 were partially achieved. Over 60 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are under threat, land degradation has reduced productivity in 23 per cent of global terrestrial area, and 1 million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction, unprecedented in human history. That trend would mean losing between 30 and 50 per cent of all species this century, posing enormous risks to human prosperity and well‑being, with least developed countries likely threatened by the worst effects. Collective measures are needed to stop the ongoing devastation. However, he noted biodiversity‑related funding has stagnated in many countries, with the funding gap in 2019 standing between $598 billion and $824 billion per year, and proposed that international biodiversity public funding to least developed countries should be doubled by 2030. He further called for support in capacity‑building and technology transfer for sustainable biodiversity conservation and restoration. “As least developed countries, we look forward to working with you all to address and resolve these discrepancies between our talk and our walk,” he said.
URSULA VON DER LEYEN, President of the European Commission, said that it was telling that a pandemic was preventing the international community from meeting in person for the United Nations Biodiversity Summit. The pandemic also made it necessary to postpone the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which had been scheduled to take place in Kunming in October 2020. As President of the Commission, she presented the European Green Deal after just 11 days in office. It offers a vision and road map for making Europe the first climate‑neutral continent by 2050. In March, it proposed the first‑ever continental climate law. It then adopted the European Union biodiversity strategy for 2030 in May 2020. The strategy tackles the key drivers of biodiversity loss: unsustainable use of land and sea, overexploitation of natural resources, pollution and global warming. It proposes legal obligations, targets and actions, for example to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers, to improve the health of European Union protected habitats and species and to bring back pollinators to agricultural lands. She called on everyone who is willing to join in with actions to halt biodiversity loss. The community of those who want to move forward is becoming bigger and stronger every day.
Leaders’ Dialogue 1
In the afternoon, two leaders’ dialogues were held. The first, under the theme “Addressing biodiversity loss and mainstreaming biodiversity for sustainable development”, featured pre‑recorded opening remarks by co‑chairs Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, and Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan.
On behalf of the co‑chairs, Svenja Schulze, Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, and Malik Amin Aslam, Minister for Climate Change of Pakistan, introduced pre‑recorded statements by Heads of State and Government, as well as the heads of United Nations specialized agencies and programmes and of civil society.
Ms. MERKEL said the destruction of the environment, climate change and the loss of biological diversity are accelerating at an unprecedented pace, posing a threat to the quality of life, economic systems and social cohesion. “We have no choice now but to initiate or step up sustainable and effective measures to protect our vital natural resources,” she said, highlighting some of Germany’s initiatives. “We cannot afford to ignore this or to waste any more time. It’s true that we face immense challenges. However, they will become ever greater if we don’t tackle them. And we have to do it; if not now, then when? Let’s be ambitious and take action. It’s up to all of us to make a difference.”
Mr. KHAN, welcoming participants, said that Pakistan, with 12 climatic zones, is committed to protecting its biodiversity. Highlighting some of those efforts, he said one national plan aims at planting 10 billion trees. The project is currently enlisting the help of local communities, giving them jobs and making them part of initiatives towards protecting biodiversity.
During the dialogue, Heads of State and Government shared national challenges and actions adopted to stem biodiversity losses. Many world leaders agreed that biodiversity was a critical part of achieving sustainable development objectives and that more investments are needed to promote green economies. Some agreed that humanity is in the middle of a planetary emergency, marked by the compromise of biodiversity at unprecedented speed.
Leaders of small island States warned of the existential threat they face, with Prime Minister Kausea Natano of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum of 18 States, saying that the international community must urgently reduce greenhouse gases. Advocating for ocean biodiversity also requires eliminating pollution, including nuclear and radioactive waste, and Second World War relics at a time when the region’s unique biodiversity is in peril, he said. Indeed, the ocean is inseparable from Pacific people, covering 98 per cent of the region and making those States and its peoples stewards of over 40 million square kilometres of ocean. At the same time, he said, illegal acts including overfishing undermine that stewardship, alongside the threat of climate change. Similarly, Wilfred Elrington, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belize, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, regretted to note that member nations still lack funding for nature‑positive activities, which is “abysmally low”, while fossil fuel expenditures remain “exponentially high”. Echoing a point made by several leaders, he said the COVID‑19 pandemic represents “a once in a lifetime opportunity to build back better”, adding that all relevant stakeholders, including the private sector, civil sector and indigenous people, must be involved equitably.
Elaborating on that point, Prime Minister Prayut Chan‑o‑Cha of Thailand said the world has learned that amid pandemic‑related shutdowns, the environment has been healing itself, but, to truly succeed in protecting biodiversity, collective action is needed, from civil society to the private sector. Likewise, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said: “We need to partner with indigenous peoples, root our decisions in science and seek local perspectives to build a healthier and more resilient planet.” Canada invested $1.3 billion in 2018 to conserve nature and joined the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co‑founded by Costa Rica and France, but, he declared, “there’s more to do because to take care of ourselves, we must take care of nature.” Summing up a common concern, President Sebastian Pinera of Chile said that once again, the planet has “placed us on alert”, with 1 million animal and plant species in danger of extinction alongside a real and imminent threat of global warming. “Science has spoken, and spoken loud and clear,” he said, proposing a “new deal” with nature. “The time for surveys is over; now is the time to take action.”
Some leaders outlined innovative programmes and persistent challenges, reflecting the interlinked goals of protecting the environment and growing their nations’ economies as they mainstreamed measures to support sustainable development. President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique said rich biodiversity, with vegetation covering 70 per cent of the country, contributes to socioeconomic development, offers carbon defence and protects water sources. Noting that almost 50 per cent of African animal species exist in Mozambique, he said the Government is tackling pressing challenges, including identifying actions to protect endangered flora and fauna and establishing cross‑border protection areas, as it addresses the efficiency of conservation efforts and the consequences of longer periods of drought and unpredictable rainfall driving crop damage, floods and uncontrolled fires.
President Edgar Chagwa Lungu of Zambia, highlighting that the country is endowed with flora and fauna, with 12,500 different species identified, said forestry, fisheries and wildlife continue to be endangered. To address these issues, Zambia has enacted policies to promote conservation, establishing a national biodiversity action plan, alongside efforts to promote wildlife and restock fisheries. President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi of Botswana said tackling the threats of alien invasive species, wildlife diseases and land degradation are among current concerns, but targeted programmes are working to protect biodiversity, which is the mainstay of tourism, a sector accounting for 5 per cent of GDP. Conservation efforts have already led to bringing back the rhinoceros from the brink of extinction and increasing the country’s elephant population to 130,000 from 54,000, he said.
The heads of several international organizations shared their perspectives, joining the call for urgent action and offering a range of ways to boost progress in protecting the environment while advancing the 2030 Agenda.
They included: Qu Dongyu, Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); Audrey Azoulay, Director‑General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Bruno Oberle, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature ; Gabriela Cuevas Barron, President of the Inter‑Parliamentary Union (IPU); and Pavan Sukhdev, President of the World Wildlife Fund International.
Mr. QU said FAO, also on behalf of several United Nations entities, joins the call for urgent action on biodiversity for sustainable development. “We are ensuring that biodiversity is mainstreamed across our internal United Nations operations, programmes and policies by walking the talk,” he said. Highlighting links between this event and the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021, he said the future of agri‑food systems depends on biodiversity, whose future, in turn, hinges on the transformation of food systems, green economic development and reverence to the nature. “It is time for bridging our agendas,” he said. “Let’s do it historically, holistically, coherently and collectively.”
Ms. AZOULAY said human activities are responsible for 75 per cent of the Earth’s alterations, but crises like the COVID‑19 pandemic present opportunities to change direction. Highlighting some of UNESCO efforts, she said programmes already protect 6 per cent of the world’s surface. Efforts are also taking steps to inspire change, through education, science and indigenous knowledge programmes. Young people are leading the way, so UNESCO is providing open access to knowledge and innovative solutions. “We owe it to ourselves and future generations,” she said. “In our hands, lays our future.”
Mr. OBERLE said biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates and urgent action and attention to critical issues must prevent further losses. The International Union for Conservation of Nature supports a biodiversity framework that works for everyone, involving all stakeholders and dovetailing with 2030 Agenda goals. Indeed, biodiversity is critical to sustainable development, with nature‑based solutions providing remedies across sectors. However, investment is necessary, he said, emphasizing that a balance must be struck to support sustainable economies.
Ms. CUEVAS BARRON said IPU has been working on biodiversity since 2004, adopting a resolution to conserve, protect and defend it. However, international resolutions of this ilk should translate into international agreements. Important initiatives include fighting poverty so that people do not need to chop down trees to survive. She called for enacting clear laws for Governments to comply with, and the importance of doing the “hard budget work”. This generation can be the one that saves the planet, she said, or the one that ends up destroying it.
Mr. SUKHDEV, stressing that “we are in a state of planetary emergency,” said that by the time he finished speaking, the world will have lost 48 hectares of forests. Outlining three urgent ways WWF [World Wildlife Fund] International hopes will change this trajectory, he said ambitious leadership must put biodiversity at the centre of political decisions, stakeholders must commit to a transformational global biodiversity framework and nature must be at the heart of a green and just recovery. “Today marks a unique opportunity in history,” he said. “Many Heads of States have already endorsed a Leaders Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. All Governments engaged at this summit must heed and embrace that pledge if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for our children.”
Ms. SCHULZE said, in closing remarks, that it was clear that biodiversity is a required component of sustainable development and that efforts must integrate those concepts in order to ensure real progress.
Mr. ASLAM regretted to note that the summit should have been a trigger to foster a real change, but that all the gatherings planned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and others to be held in 2020 have been postponed until next year. Expressing hope that 2021 would be the “super year” of nature, he said that the COVID‑19 pandemic forced the world to look at nature. While warning that when the limits of nature are crossed and tested, nature strikes back, he said the pandemic has shown the world that it can and must build back better.
Also participating were the Heads of State and Government from Kyrgyzstan, Costa Rica, Georgia, Estonia, Namibia, Cuba and Greece.
Leaders’ Dialogue 2
The second dialogue, under the theme “Harnessing science, technology and innovation, capacity‑building, access and benefit‑sharing, financing and partnerships for biodiversity”, featured pre‑recorded opening remark by co‑chairs Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Environment and Climate of Sweden.
Mr. GONSALVES said global partnerships are critical, stressing that “the world is badly wounded, the only salve is multilateral cooperation”. In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, efforts are under way to promote major industries and protect biodiversity simultaneously. In 2018, a decision was made to work with businesses and consumers to reduce the use of single‑use plastics. In addition, his country has banned Styrofoam containers. It is also employing methods to better regulate the disposal of grey water from coastal businesses, yachts and pleasure craft, as well as taking action that will slow beach degradation and protect costly assets. This is all very costly for a small island nation and much more needs to be done, he emphasized.
Ms. LÖVIN said that the COVID‑19 crisis has taught the world that humanity is vulnerable and that leaders around the world can act decisively in the face of a common threat. Climate change, together with unsustainable land use, form a perfect storm. Humanity is pushing ecosystems to the limit. “As a species, we are sawing off the branch that we are sitting on,” she said. The Swedish Government has taken the initiative by approving a record‑size $560 million budget for nature for 2021 to help prevent species extinction and protect natural habitats.
Ms. Lövin and Inga Rhonda King (Fiji), then introduced pre‑recorded statements by Heads of States and Government, and Ministers, as well as the heads of United Nations specialized agencies, private companies, local government and civil society.
Several Member States noted the precious situation of the world’s oceans, with Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama of Fiji, speaking for small island developing States, underscoring that the ocean and its extensive resources are essential to the lives and future prosperity of Pacific Island people. The international community must commit to a “blue economy,” he said, as it cannot go back to the status quo where warming seas and depleting fish stocks are the norm. Likewise, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh said that her country is dependent on fresh water, yet freshwater biodiversity is declining. In addition, 85 per cent of global wetlands have been wiped out since the Industrial Revolution.
President Lenín Boltaire Moreno Garcés of Ecuador, meanwhile, noted that the Galapagos Islands have been threatened by human practices that put their ecosystems at risk, he said calling on countries to self‑regulate, limit their fishing activities and respect the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
A number of Heads of State highlighted notable areas where progress had been made with regard to biodiversity, with Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg shining a spotlight on his country’s financial initiative. It has launched a sustainability bond framework and issued the first sovereign sustainability bond in Europe. Also noting areas of advancement, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli of Nepal said that his country accords high priority to biodiversity conservation. To that end, 23 per cent of its geography has been designated as protected area and it plans to expand that area to 30 per cent by 2030. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldives said that his country plans to phase out single use plastics and move towards renewable energy and is deeply concerned about the problem of plastic pollution. On the pandemic, he noted that COVID‑19 is a zoonotic disease and that “if we continue to disrespect the boundaries of the natural world, we will face similar and possibly worse consequences”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón of Spain underscored the problematic dynamic between humanity and the world, noting that “Our relationship with this planet is that of a parasite. We are the parasites”. Highlighting that nature accounts for 25 per cent of medicines while 60 per cent of human infections, including COVID‑19, are of animal origin, he said that humanity should go back to a relationship of symbiosis with nature rather than a parasitic one.
The dialogue also featured video presentations by: Guy Ryder, Director‑General, International Labour Organization (ILO); David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group; Mari Elka Pangestu, Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, World Bank Group; Thomas Buberl, CEO, AXA Group; Shinta Kamdani, CEO, Sintasa Group; Valerie Plante, Mayor of Montreal, Canada and Local Governments for Sustainability Global Ambassador; and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Indigenous Leader, Sustainable Development Goals Advocate.
Mr. RYDER stressed that the alarming decline in biodiversity threatens the “world of work”, in part because the oceans on which it depends face unsustainable practices. Some 1.2 billion jobs rely directly on ecosystems and the services they provide, notably in the provision of food and water, and in the control of disease vectors. If societies are serious about creating sustainable work for all, they cannot forget that today’s jobs depend on preserving ecosystems. “Without a healthy planet, there can be no decent work,” he emphasized. Recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic must be rooted in rebuilding the relationship between people and nature. As the ILO Centenary underlines, the environment is a key driver of transformative change in the world of work.
Mr. MALPASS said the value of biodiversity to economies, livelihoods and human survival is irrefutable. The World Bank is working with countries, helping them to create 116 million hectares of marine and coastal protected areas, and 10 million hectares of terrestrial protected areas. Through such new programmes as “Pro Blue” and “Pro Green”, it is addressing threats to marine and other areas, and through the International Development Association, it is helping to put in place robust biodiversity plans. Upcoming Bank research shows that the collapse of three key ecosystems could translate into a reduction of one‑fifth of real GDP growth for low and lower middle‑income countries by 2030. Harmful subsidies must be ended.
Ms. PANGESTU said partnership is essential if programmes are to have an impact, citing World Economic Forum data estimating that more than half of global GDP — $44 trillion — is exposed to risks from nature loss. The World Bank is partnering with the private sector, notably through the informal working group to set up a Task Force on Nature‑related Financial Disclosures, and helping companies to reduce those risks, which include over-exploitation of natural resources. She called for a “new global deal for nature” to protect the planet, stressing that economic stimulus packages to tackle COVID‑19 will need to take a long view. Rebuilding better includes how societies produce and consume, while protecting habitats and preventing the emergence of new zoonotic diseases.
Mr. BUBERL said his company relies on well-functioning economies and stable ecosystems. “Biodiversity is a major issue,” he said, as disruptions could lead to resource shortages and sanitary threats. As AXA Group has long committed to tackling climate change, biodiversity loss is a natural extension of those efforts. It signed the “Act for Nature” initiative. In 2019, AXA launched a task force for nature related financial disclosures, as well as a climate action fund dedicated to nature-based solutions. It also has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to protect biodiversity. Sharing four new steps, he said AXA Group and more than 20 financial institutions signed the “Finance Biodiversity Pledge”. It will double the size of the biodiversity and climate impact fund, with $350 million dedicated to protecting natural capital. AXA will also work on metrics, and support coalitions, having recently joined informal working group to create the new Task Force on Nature‑related Financial Disclosures. “The private sector is committing,” he assured. “All countries have a responsibility to evolve”. Public action is also key and he called for common frameworks and an agreement that supports the actions of investors.
Ms. KAMDANI, noting that Sintasa is an Indonesian investment holding company comprised of 16 entities, said that even before the onset of COVID‑19, the need to create more resilient societies was clear. “It is now inescapable,” she said, pointing out that Indonesia has integrated nature into its development planning and urging all Governments to lead in ways that incentivize corporate actions to prevent biodiversity loss. Noting that Sintasa is focused on long‑term value, rather than efficiency alone, she said it adopted a road map committing itself to integrate sustainability into its core business model. “We are not acting alone,” she assured, noting that many companies are integrating nature into their businesses. Voluntary action is not enough. Only by acting together can societies protect, restore and sustainably use natural resources. She urged Governments to adopt policies now to reverse nature loss in the current decade.
Ms. PLANTE said COVID‑19 has upended habitats and economies, and brought the world to a serious moment of reflection. Biodiversity is being degraded at a breakneck pace. It is time to reconsider the relationship between humans and nature, and pursue development that respects planetary limits. She cited the protection of the ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol as one such example, calling for collective engagement. “Cities are on the frontlines of climate change,” she stressed. They are in action mode to protect ecosystems, whether through the establishment of green belts or planting of trees. Along with regional and local governments, they are ready to partner on a biodiversity agreement. Calling for a global biodiversity framework to be forged at the fifteenth Conference of Parties, and broadly curbing — and reversing — the negative trends that cause biodiversity loss, she offered Montreal’s cooperation to the United Nations and Member States. For any new targets to succeed, they must be ambitious and part‑and‑parcel of packages aimed at recovering from the pandemic.
Ms. IBRAHIM stressed that for indigenous peoples, “nature is our past, our history.” Nature is also the future. “For us, nature is not only a picture you watch,” or something one studies to earn a PhD. For all indigenous peoples, nature is their way of life: its ecosystems, their supermarkets and restaurants, always open late. It is their pharmacy, providing medicines to protect their health. Ecosystems protect from animal borne diseases. “We have a pact with nature,” she said. “If we protect Mother Earth, she protects us back. It is time for you to learn from us, indigenous peoples, who have experience living in harmony with nature.” She expressed deep concern about climate change and biodiversity loss, which is worsening by the day. It is time to change relationships. She pressed everyone to build a pact with nature, inviting all to “come with us, in our forests, our savannahs, our coral reefs” to learn how to build a green economy. “We’re offering you real nature‑based solutions,” she said, and traditional knowledge to foster a green recovery.
The Heads of State and Government as well as ministers of Norway, Ireland, Czech Republic, Senegal, Malaysia and Cabo Verde also spoke.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, echoing the Secretary‑General’s observation that humanity is at war with nature, said that today’s summit highlighted the action and commitments around the world to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. She stressed the need to understand the scale of the emergency and the fact that societies are intimately linked to nature. “Investing in nature is investing in a sustainable future,” she said, adding that the multilateral system must take the high ambitions expressed during today’s summit forward, including through the post‑2020 global biodiversity framework, and ensure that they are realized on the ground. COVID‑19 is an opportunity to transform humanity’s relationship with the environment and as the world moves into the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, the world can re‑establish its relationship and put itself on a path that everyone wants.
Mr. BOZKIR, President of the General Assembly, acknowledging that transformational change will be difficult but not impossible, said that the key messages heard during today’s summit are a source of hope. Despite the severe hardships that it has caused, the COVID‑19 pandemic is a unique opportunity for a green reset that will require mobilizing public and private financing to embrace nature-based solutions and disaster risk reduction. Looking ahead to the United Nations Food Systems Summit and the Ocean Conference, both taking place in 2021, he said that nature, both on land and at sea, is everyone’s business, requiring action at all levels. As the United Nations marks its seventy‑fifth anniversary, it is encouraging to see multilateralism serve the needs of the people, and that 75 years from now, today’s efforts should be something to be remembered.