Helen Clark: Opening of the High Level Segment Convention on Biological Diversity COP-13

Dec 2, 2016

Maintaining ecosystem integrity and preserving biodiversity is at the center of UNDP’s mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, and support sustainable development pathways. Credit: UNDP

It is a pleasure to address the High-Level Segment of the 13th Conference of State Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and I thank the Government of México for hosting this important conference. Let me acknowledge at the outset the longstanding and evolving history of co-operation between UNDP and Mexico, for which we are most appreciative.

We come together here in Cancun to reflect on the progress made so far on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, and the outlook for achieving the Aichi Targets for Biodiversity by 2020. 

Over the past thirty years, the world has witnessed huge development advances. More than one billion people have been lifted out of poverty, life expectancy has increased significantly, and literacy rates have risen sharply. 

Yet, this important progress on the economic and social fronts has all too often been achieved at the expense of our natural environment – on the health of which we all depend. 

The facts speak for themselves: 

• over the past three decades ten per cent of the planet’s wilderness was lost – equivalent to an area half the size of the Amazon;  

• populations of three thousand mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish species have declined by more than half;  

• eighty per cent of global fish stocks are fully or over-exploited, or have collapsed;  and 

• we have passed beyond 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere – that is a critical threshold which is now breached . 

Overall, as shown by the work of Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, three of the earth’s nine planetary boundaries – biospheric integrity and nitrogen and phosphorus loading – have already been exceeded, and we have passed the safe operating space of two others – climate change and land-system change. 

Looking ahead, pressures on the environment are set to continue to grow: over the next two decades, the global population will expand by more than 1.2 billion people , and demand for food will increase by 35 per cent, for water by forty per cent, and for energy by fifty per cent. Unless we change how we govern and use the world’s resources, negative impacts on the natural environment will become more pronounced, with serious implications for our livelihoods, health and wellbeing, and security.

Investing in biodiversity and ecosystems is therefore not only essential in its own right, but also for human wellbeing. This imperative is well reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes two standalone biodiversity goals and many targets aimed at doing just that.  

Overall, investing in biodiversity is:

• Effective: evidence is clear that protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing nature yields high returns with modest costs and maintenance. A UNEP report found that investments in protected areas have an average return of at least 50:1 in socio-economic benefits.  Investing in nature makes good economic sense  – which explains why global investors, representing more than $60 billion in impact investment funds, are seeking environmental investment opportunities.

• Efficient: UNDP’s analysis of 65 National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) from countries around the world found that if fully implemented, they could catalyze progress in a number of other areas. Those include food and water security, livelihoods, economic growth, disaster risk reduction, health, gender, and climate resilience. In short: investing in biodiversity and ecosystems is a ‘buy one, get at least five free’ strategy.   

• Equitable: nature provides a safety net to billions of people around the world. 1.6 billion people depend on forests for jobs, livelihoods, food and fuel; one out of every eight people depends on fisheries for their livelihoods; and more than four billion people depend on medicines derived from forests for their health.  Investing in nature helps ensure that the most vulnerable people in society, especially the more than 800 million people living in poverty,  have a durable safety net.  

Maintaining ecosystem integrity and preserving biodiversity is at the center of UNDP’s mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, and support sustainable development pathways. Working across 120 countries, our $1.6 billion biodiversity portfolio – the largest in the UN system - and $5.1 billion in co-financing supports partners to mainstream biodiversity into development planning and programmes; optimize economic and conservation benefits from protected areas; and use nature-based approaches to address and build resilience to climate change. 

With the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and in partnership with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Secretariat and UN Environment Programme, we are proud to have assisted with the development of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans in 45 countries. Because these plans are adopted as national policy instruments, they not only drive biodiversity action, but can also generate multiple development dividends. We now look forward to supporting their implementation, including in partnership with the GEF and through the soon-to-be-established NBSAP Support Facility.

In its work, UNDP also focuses on the central role of local communities and indigenous peoples in protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing biodiversity. As chief users and guardians of the world’s ecosystems, such communities are the source of innovative and effective solutions to the challenges we are facing. A recent report from World Resources Institute concludes that when community rights to forests are legally recognized and protected by governments, deforestation rates, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions are lower . 

In partnership with Norway and Germany, we are therefore very pleased to support nineteen previous Equator Prize winners, including seven from Mexico, and seven GEF Small Grant Programme grantees to attend this year’s COP and share their experiences of pursuing sustainable development solutions. 

On December 7th in the Rio Pavilion, UNDP will be launching four publications. They focus on the importance of biodiversity for SDG implementation from different angles: the role of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans in advancing SDG achievement; the linkages between UNDP’s biodiversity work and the SDGs; the role of protected areas in accelerating progress, and the contribution of local communities to SDG success. We invite you all to attend the launch, and hope that these publications will make positive contribution to your biodiversity efforts. 


In closing, let me emphasize the importance of using this COP to redouble our resolve and commitment to achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets by 2020. The Cancun Declaration - with its emphasis on the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity into national plans and programmes - is an important call to action which we should all follow. Doing so will accelerate progress toward the SDGs, help us stay within planetary boundaries, safeguard the natural capital which sustains us, and ensure that no one is left behind.

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