Opening Plenary Speech by the Deputy Executive Director, UNEP
I would like to start by thanking the Government of India for hosting this conference in the beautiful city of Gandhinagar. I know that India will bring leadership to the South Asia region and to the whole world as President of the CMS COP for the next three years.
It is apparent that India already plays a leading role in addressing the global loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, and your success will be critical for our success as a planet.
When I was young, I often visited my grandparents’ home at the foothills of mountain Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I would wake each day to the Kunguru1. Their song told us when it was time to get up and when the sun was about to go down. It was the soundtrack to our family’s mornings and evenings.
As I grew older, roads replaced dirt tracks and the forests were cleared to make way for new homes. The birds soon disappeared, and we had to buy my grandmother an alarm clock to replace their morning calls.
I often think back to the birds at my grandparents’ house when I contemplate the number of species we have already lost. The rate of extinction today is on average 1,000 times greater than at any point in recorded history.
Scientist and writer, Rachel Carson had it right; we know exactly what extinction sounds like. Extinction sounds like silence. Like the loss of birdsong from my grandparents’ home.
And I know we are all concerned about the loss of nature, and the silence that accompanies it. We need to look no further than the devastating wildfires that have recently burned through
Australia, the Arctic and the Amazon to realise that this threat is only rising. The world at one degree of warming above the pre-industrial era is already alarming.
To make matters worse, we have altered almost every single part of the Earth, including our oceans - in our relentless quest for infinite growth on a finite planet. Dams, roads, deforestation and agriculture have destroyed and fragmented habitats around the world. Species extinction, the rapid loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, and global warming are the consequences. And yet, despite this bleak outlook, I am hopeful.
I believe that we still have an opportunity to reverse course if we all come together to take collective action. To do this, we need to make 2020 a Super Year for Nature. This must be the year we agree to halt and reverse ecological devastation by pulling together, developing and implementing an ambitious post 2020 Biodiversity Framework.
That is why I am delighted that we are kicking off this critical year with this conference in India. This COP is an opportunity to accelerate efforts to conserve migratory species and their habitats, and to protect the connectivity of these habitats so that species can move between them, allowing biodiversity to flourish.
This concept of ecological connectivity provides us with a means by which multiple countries can agree on shared conservation goals beyond national plans and priorities. It also offers a strong foundation for international cooperation. We must take advantage of these unique opportunities for internationally coordinated conservation measures and nature-based solutions. Applying the lens of ecological connectivity to this, and indeed all environmental challenges means that we are also contributing to global efforts to address climate change mitigation, resilience, adaptation and land degradation neutrality, to name a few.
This is why the CMS is so important. We are losing species at such an alarming rate. One million out of nearly 8 million species face the threat of extinction. They include the insects that pollinate our crops, and the sharks that maintain the fragile balance of our coral reefs - all vital building blocks of a natural world that serve as humanity’s life-support system. If we destroy the ecosystems and habitats that species need to thrive, then we destroy our own support system, putting many of the SDGs beyond reach.
This meeting comes at a crucial moment. The UN’s Nature Summit takes place later this year. It will be an opportunity for countries to accelerate political momentum as we craft the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which seeks to halt the unravelling of the natural world. This COP will play a major role in shaping this framework and, in doing so, shape the fate of our future and planet.
The stakes are high. The targets we set and the level of political will that we mobilise will determine whether or not we can halt the planetary/nature/climate crisis and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – the very highest ideals humanity has set. And importantly, this is the year when we overcome the silos because the biodiversity agenda is a climate agenda, and a climate agenda is a biodiversity agenda. Species loss exemplifies these inter-linkages. In addressing the root causes of habitat loss for example, we move ever closer to making progress on nationally determined targets on climate. And as we watch our planet burn, we know that climate change changes the migration times and patterns of countless species around the world, putting them in graver threat.
We are so proud to count on the Convention on Migratory Species among the 15 global environmental conventions that dock at UNEP. Because CMS focuses on migratory species that cross national and international boundaries it has immense power to foster the regional and global collaboration that is so essential to stopping the nature crisis that we face today.
UNEP is also committed to continue its critical support to the conservation of iconic species such as the African Elephant and the Gorilla, through UNEP Initiatives like the African Elephant Fund and the Great Apes Survival Partnership.
And we are deeply grateful for the leadership displayed by the Government of India - be it in the conservation of migratory birds, the conservation of critically endangered species including the Asiatic Lion, the snow leopard and the Gangetic dolphin. And finally, for driving the kind of transboundary cooperation that is so vital to protecting all migratory species on this planet.
As the UN Secretary General told the General Assembly last month: “Living in harmony with nature is more important than ever.” “Everything is interlinked,”2 he said.
The current discord between humanity and the rest of the natural world means that we are in the process of tearing apart nature’s web. Let this year be the year we start to repair the damage we have done, and to put back the pieces so that the natural world and our place in it can flourish once again.
I wish you all the very best in your deliberations over the coming days; and for your collective efforts to protect, conserve and secure the future of migratory species on our planet.
Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment Programme
1 A Raven of the family of Corvidae