Nairobi, Kenya

02 March 2022

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Leadership Dialogue of the United Nations Environment Assembly: Strengthening Actions for Nature to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals [as delivered]

Excellencies, Distinguished delegates,

 I am delighted to have the opportunity to join this Leadership Dialogue to discuss how to unleash the potential of nature for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nature is essential to the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals – from food security to economic growth, to conflict prevention and health, to climate change.

Over half a billion people in the world depend on coral reefs for food, income, and protection.

And hundreds of millions of people depend directly on forests for their livelihood and subsistence.

Protecting these crucial ecosystems is instrumental to preserving these benefits. And we can also leverage the transformational potential of nature-based solutions to accelerate the 2030 Agenda.

Nature-positive actions can create 395 million jobs by 2030.

They contribute to public health.

And they help our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

I want to highlight four major links:

First, as the world begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, let us not forget that natural assets are instrumental to building back better.

We must account for the environment in our economic models, to fully capture the economic value of our natural capital for economic recovery.

For example, mangrove forests provide habitats for fish populations and are a recurrent source of timber for local populations, while also protecting from sea level rise and storm surge.

Healthy ecosystems provide goods and services that stimulate and maintain economic activities and create jobs that can revitalise impoverished rural communities.

One study on the value of the world’s ecosystem services estimated their worth at approximately 33 trillion dollars per year—that’s nearly double the global gross national product.

Second, the pandemic has also demonstrated the complex links between nature and human health. Resilient ecosystems are essential to ensuring healthy populations worldwide.

We now know that enhanced, proactive and sound conservation practices can limit the impact and emergence of zoonotic diseases.

By damaging ecosystems, including through deforestation or habitat destruction, we are amplifying pathogen pathways.

Third, our efforts to address the climate emergency are tied to our efforts to protect and restore our natural environment.

Drastically reducing deforestation and systemically restoring forests and other ecosystems is the single largest nature-based opportunity for climate mitigation – potentially providing one third of the net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

At COP26 in Glasgow, we saw many countries and actors making global commitments to end deforestation. We must now see those translated in concrete and credible policies and actions that reverses the deforestation we have seen in recent years.

Last—but certainly not least—urgent action is needed to transform agriculture and food systems, the main drivers of biodiversity loss.

As highlighted at last September’s Food Systems Summit, we must change the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food.

And because all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals rely—to some degree—on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems, we need to utilize food systems reform as a catalyser for the agenda.

Nature-friendly practices can actually improve productivity:

We can work toward conserving and enhancing the use of biodiversity in agricultural and other managed ecosystems.

We can move away from policies and practices that erode nature and emit pollutants.

We can rehabilitate degraded terrestrial and marine areas and curb incentives, such as environmentally harmful subsidies, that convert habitat for agricultural production and drive overfishing.

We can leverage the power of trade to build deforestation-free supply chains for key global commodities.

 In closing, I want to call on all stakeholders to invest in “nature’s infrastructure” – from our estuaries and mangroves, to our tropical forests and water ways - to urgently unlock progress towards the 2030 Agenda and build sustainable and inclusive societies – resilient to future pandemics and natural disasters.

These investments are good for economic stability, good for climate, good for human health and good for planetary health.

 Thank you.