02 Jul 2019 Speech Ecosystems

Speech at the Trondheim Biodiversity Conference

Distinguished guests, partners, colleagues and friends.

It is an honour to speak to you today about the post-2020 biodiversity framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity. If we get our strategy right in the lead up to the Conference of Parties, we will pave a new and more positive future that will allow nature, people and the planet to thrive together for generations.

I congratulate the Government of Norway, the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment and the Norwegian Environment Agency for hosting us here in Trondheim.

In 2010, the world came together to take stock of progress made to arrest biodiversity loss. Unfortunately, it was clear that there was not much good news to report.  In response, a new set of Biodiversity Targets — the Aichi Targets — were established giving us 10 years to make progress on reducing biodiversity loss.

As we fast approach the end of this decade, all indications are that we have not met most of the targets we set for ourselves.

Nevertheless in what often feels like an avalanche of bad news on the environment, the good news is that the future is entirely in our hands. And so, there is no more important a moment for us to be speaking about nature and biodiversity. Because what we do or don’t do in the next 10 years will determine the fate of our planet. This is not a small matter. In fact, we have never been in a more important and critical moment for the human species. And there is more good news. The state of our planet is in the public consciousness more than ever before.  People everywhere are realizing that a crisis in the natural world is a crisis for humanity.   

I just attended the preparatory meeting for the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in Abu Dhabi. In the meeting, emphasis was of course placed on the urgent task of decarbonizing our economies. But — for the first time — deep emphasis was also placed on Nature-Based Solutions. Investing in nature’s infrastructure — the coral reefs, the mangroves, the forests, the wetlands — provide a key ingredient for planetary security, for biodiversity, for the struggle against desertification and land degradation, and of course in the struggle against climate change.

But on the biodiversity side, we are not doing as well as we set out to do. So, when our friends at IPBES tell us that unless we take drastic action, we are set to lose one million out of the nearly eight million species on earth, we must understand that we are in a crisis. We are in an emergency. As Greta Thunberg says, we should act as if our house is on fire, because it is.

I get that it is hard for an international negotiations process to act with urgency and determined haste. But that is indeed the task before us. Urgency. Haste. Proactive and clear actions. A transparent process. A public holding to account.

So, in this speech, allow me to reflect on the post-2020 framework and the road ahead as I see it.

At this time, I come to you with eight basic messages.

One, the current 20 Aichi targets, while a proud step forward in 2010, have proven inadequate, unmeasurable, non “add-upable”. Further, they were agreed without baselines, without measurable indicators and without the actual buy-in of the sectors that largely cause the biodiversity loss. So we must learn the lessons from this and improve the post-2020 framework.

Two, the percentage of target for protection has worked, but it is not enough. We need a much greater level of ambition. The one more immediately measurable Aichi target — target 11 — that calls for 10 percent of marine and 17 percent of terrestrial space being protected has provided a clear path for accountability and “add-up-ability”. Some real progress has been made, and I congratulate the countries that have made major efforts to stretch, to reach, and in a good number of cases to exceed this goal. We are not there yet, but we are making headway and with an effort, we can reach this goal by 2020. But, ladies and gentlemen, it is not enough.

Three, the percentage of our planet protected is an important goal, but an inadequate overall measure of our success in biodiversity protection. Don’t get me wrong. We absolutely need to establish an ambitious percentage for our protected marine and terrestrial areas. And at this time, there are calls for protecting half of the earth, and these calls are important. We absolutely should stretch — in the post 2020 framework— beyond the 10 and 17 percent. We should reach a new deal for nature and we should work towards 50 by 50.

But I say that we need to plan to protect the entire planet. Because our “working landscapes”, our agricultural fields, our cities and our constructed infrastructure, must be part of the solution. We need to facilitate and encourage biodiversity positive agriculture, biodiversity rich cities, construction and infrastructure that integrates nature. This will not only be good for biodiversity, it will also be good for human welfare, for our health and for resilience in a climate changing world.

Four, the quality of what we protect is important because percentages are insufficient, if the quality of what the percentages cover is poor. The ability to measure progress is essential. There are many ways to measure progress, and not just by counting. The quality of what we achieve is as important as the quantity. I am pleased to see this great gathering of people that has the collective knowledge to develop these robust measures. Because our protected areas need to be such that they overlap with key biodiversity areas, that hold our planets most diverse, and most important species and ecosystems. So quality matters greatly.

Five, the solutions to biodiversity loss lie outside the environmental ministries and movements. So our engagement with these sectors that have a huge footprint on biodiversity is critical. We cannot continue to talk to ourselves and wonder why we are not reversing biodiversity loss. We know that biodiversity loss, terrestrial species loss are largely caused by land use changes, largely because of agriculture, by overexploitation, by fragmentation as well as by invasive species. So, if land use changes that are largely agriculture based are the cause, we have to ask whether we got the buy-in of the agriculture sector. Fragmentation is a major driver of loss, but in most countries, the Aichi targets were agreed at the Environment Ministry level, with little or no buy in from agriculture, infrastructure, public works, municipal planning, etc. So, in a way, we should not be surprised that these targets are not being achieved.

But we, in the biodiversity sector, cannot afford to make agriculture and infrastructure the “enemy”. The real challenge is to work with these sectors so that they can become biodiversity positive and enhancing.

THAT, ladies and gentlemen is the challenge before us. And it is entirely possible. Shift agricultural subsidies to biodiversity positive production and tighten regulatory frameworks to enable big agriculture to be part of the solution. Regulate for labeling that describes biodiversity positive products. Inform consumers so that they can vote with their kroners, euros, dollars and pounds.

So, the post-2020 framework must have a much broader base of buy-in than just environment. Failing which, we will not change gear and our destruction of biodiversity will continue unabated.

Six, we need a paradigm shift to science-based targets. Engage with ministries of finance, with regulators, engage with national accounts, engage with infrastructure, agriculture and business so that these sectors can drive the solution.

But this will require a different approach. We need science-based targets for various sectors so that business, agriculture and infrastructure can measure their performance on a biodiversity scale of impact. Science-based targets for palm oil, soy, wheat, cattle, infrastructure, cities and municipalities. Targets that are ambitious, measurable, feasible and contain the quality of protection that we need.

Seven, so what solutions do we have:

  1. Our economic model has systematically under-valued and over-exploited ecosystems.

IPBES tells us the economic value of terrestrial nature’s contribution to people in the Americas is $ 24.3 trillion dollars, equal to the region’s gross domestic product. but that two-thirds of these are in decline. So what is the solution?

When our economic models and national accounts acknowledge the planetary boundaries, we can factor biodiversity into well-being and sustainability. This will drive us away from over-fishing and unsustainable land use, to market-based solutions that contribute to biodiversity conservation.

  1. Agriculture is working against nature, and itself, accounting for 70 percent of tropical deforestation and one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. So what is the solution?

By transforming our agri-food system, we can produce, distribute, consume and dispose of food in ways that optimize resource use, minimize greenhouse gas emissions, avoid harmful chemicals and arrest biodiversity loss. This requires political will; a private sector that adopts sustainable commodity supply chains; and consumers that see the value in diverse diets with higher plant-based content and reduced meat consumption. 

  1. Our current competition with wildlife and wild spaces is having a devastating impact on wildlife populations which have declined on average, by 60 percent since 1970. So what is the solution?

From government to the boardroom, our focus must be on integrated land and water use planning. We need to link the private sector, governments and local communities in conservation-compatible investments that deliver sustainable economic and ecological benefits to countries, people and the environment.

  1. We cannot afford to lock-in trillions of dollars in infrastructure investments that destroy the foundations of nature. So what is the solution?

We have a real opportunity to do things differently when we consider the massive ongoing and anticipated growth in infrastructure. Investments in nature’s infrastructure as the first choice of infrastructure for resilience, coupled with smart design of buildings, resilient cities and infrastructure, can reduce emissions and resource use, and reduce impacts on biodiversity.

  1. Land degradation drives poverty, biodiversity loss and reduces resilience to climate change. So what is the solution?

Landscape restoration will bring obvious climate, biodiversity and livelihood benefits. Here we are greatly helped by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, The Bonn Challenge and the commitments to restore at least 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2030.  And our structures need to be geared towards subsidies and incentives that reward restoration and sustainable resource use.

Eight, we need an Anders Celsius for biodiversity. A bit of a dream really, but entirely doable. And I know my colleagues in IUCN are working on this. I doubt that Anders Celsius when he sat in Sweden in the 1700s and designed the Celsius scale; when he thought about water freezing being 0 and water boiling being 100, — at that time, he did not imagine that his scale would be used to measure climate change. And that the 1.5 degree heating would be cast as a ceiling and a goal.

So I call out to the scientific community, to be the Anders Celsius for biodiversity. To innovate and come up with a scale that provides us with an “Apex target”, our 1.5 degrees. Now such a scale may not “walk in to the negotiations”, but to me that does not really matter. Because eventually it will. And it will walk in to the public conscience. It will walk in to the voting booth. Into the boardrooms, in to investors choices and into finance and banking. If we had a scale — say a composite scale that combined species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity — and if someone plotted our global performance as well as countries’ performance on this scale; if someone assessed their performance and watched that we were — as a planet — operating within the safe operating space for biodiversity. If all of this happened, I am sure that someone would quickly come up with a “gap report”, which would measure our performance and thereby shine a light on those countries and sectors that need to stretch; as well as on those countries who were “importing the biodiversity crisis” due to their importation of biodiversity negative products, such as unsustainable meat farmed on tropical forest land or unsustainable palm oil products. So this is my challenge to the science community: Define the scale; set the measure; simplify your message and you will allow the public to follow and understand, to vote and to lobby for biodiversity conservation.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen

In 2020, world leaders will meet in China to agree on a new set of commitments to conserve nature, reset the relationship between people and planet, and achieve the sustainable development goals.

The UN Secretary-General has reminded us that we cannot negotiate with nature, but we can negotiate on behalf of nature.  This is what we are doing with the post-2020 biodiversity framework for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

There are no shortcuts to positive biodiversity outcomes. Political will, synergy across sectors, targets and agreements and supporting national capacities will be critical ingredients of our success.

And when we reduce the biodiversity footprint of critical sectors, we will demonstrate how backing nature is a powerful solution to the climate challenge. 

We will conserve biodiversity and ensure the sustainability of the planet.

We will ensure sustainable, green livelihoods for people and reduce poverty.

We will address climate change.

We will meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

We must get the framework right and then focus on delivering towards our common vision of living in harmony with nature.

Only by doing so can we ensure a future for nature, and for all the benefits it brings to people everywhere. And then we really will have a new deal for nature.

Thank you.

By Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme