World leaders must safeguard environment to reduce poverty – UN ecology chief

17 June 2005

Sound and solid investment in the environment will go a long way towards meeting international targets on poverty reduction, the supply of drinking water and fighting the spread of infectious diseases, and world leaders should take this on board at their September summit, the United Nations environmental head said today.

“The goods and services delivered by nature including the atmosphere, forests, rivers, wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs are worth trillions of dollars,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said in Nairobi, Kenya, at a regional launch of a new report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that seek to halve many of the worlds ills, such as extreme poverty and hunger, by 2015.

“The environment is the red ribbon running around all our ambitions. I sincerely hope that this will be fully and finally recognised in the outcome of the Summit,” he added of the meeting of world leaders at UN Headquarters in New York on 16 September to debate reform of the world body and the status of the eight MDGs.

“To fight poverty we need three kinds of capital – financial, human and environmental. When we damage natural capital we not only undermine our life-support systems but the economic basis for current and future generations. Targeted investments in this natural capital have a high rate of return in terms of development,” he said.

The report highlights good progress in many parts of the developing world toward meeting the MDGs, which as well as halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day, seek to reduce child and maternal mortality, reverse forest loss, empower women and increase access to education and health care.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the work of 1,300 scientists and experts from 95 countries in which UNEP played a pivotal role, gives some of the first firm figures on the environment’s economic value and thus its role in meeting the MDGs.

For example, tropical mangroves, coastal ecosystems that are nurseries for fish, natural filters and coastal defences, are worth around $1,000 a hectare when intact. Cleared for shrimp farms the same area of coast is worth only $200 a hectare.

Losses as a result of damage by alien, invasive species in the Cape Floral region of South Africa are estimated at $93 million a year. An intact wetland in Canada is valued at $6,000 a hectare whereas one cleared for intensive agriculture is worth about $2,000 a hectare. The annual recreational value of coral reefs in the six Marine Management Areas of the Hawaiian islands ranges from $300,000 to tens of millions of dollars a year.

On the other hand, the burning of 10 million hectares of Indonesia’s forests in the late 1990s cost an estimated $9 billion as a result of factors such as increased health care and tourism losses.

In the run-up to July’s G8 summit of leading industrial nations in Gleneagles, Scotland, Mr. Toepfer also urged governments to back a substantial replenishment of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multi-billion dollar fund which assists developing countries in environment and development projects.

 

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