The UN Biodiversity Conference today opened in Cancun, Mexico, with a call to governments and businesses to integrate biodiversity into their practices if countries are to halt further environmental degradation and ensure the well-being and prosperity of future generations.
“We have a tendency to look at issues in an isolated way, to seek solutions without studying the implications in other fields, to undertake quick fixes that disregard the consequences,” the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, told the High-Level Segment of the 13th Conference of the Parties of the CBD, also known as COP 13.
“We are often ineffective in our actions because actions taken in other domains are not aligned. We need to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again. We need to advance coherence of our actions and policies in all areas. We need to be thoughtful and inclusive to successfully mainstream biodiversity within and across sectors.”
Over 100 ministers are attending the COP13, and for the first time they include not just environment ministers but also from the sectors of forestry, tourism, agriculture and fisheries – sectors which depend, but also affect, countries' biodiversity.
Investment in biodiversity and ecosystems is essential
A business forum is also being held to engage the private sector on this issue.
“Investment in biodiversity and ecosystems is essential in its own right and for human well-being,” said the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark. “The evidence is clear: protecting, restoring and sustainably managing nature will yield high returns at low costs. Global investors are seeking environmental investment opportunities because it makes economic sense.”
During the opening of the High-Level Segment, various UN officials emphasized the relationship between biodiversity and tackling some of the most pressing issues that societies face today such as food security, climate change, and health.
Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Maria Helena Semedo stressed that while agriculture practices in many parts of the world are leading to biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture can help protect it.
“Agriculture, forests and fisheries are key users of biodiversity and have enormous potential to protect it,” she said. “Scientists increasingly recognize that the agriculture sector can contribute to the function of ecosystems – control of pests, pollinations, erosion of soil - if they're managed sustainably.”
The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, highlighted the link between biodiversity and climate action. For example, coastal ecosystems are heavily impacted by climate change, but many also hold the key to address it, as is the case with mangroves, which can absorb large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
“The relationship between biodiversity and climate change needs to be more transparent in our negotiations going forward,” Ms. Espinosa said, referring to negotiations of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which entered into force last month. “We need different sectors of our societies to work together on these issues.”
The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Eric Solheim, emphasized that countries need to be more ambitious to do better, and that this can only happen if they work together.
Champions of the Earth
In other news today, six environmental leaders, representing government, research and grassroots action, received the 'Champions of the Earth Award,' the UN's top environmental prize.
From an indigenous activist killed for protecting the environment, to the world's largest beach clean-up organizer, this year's awards recognize bold visionaries who confront the defining challenges of our generation, such as climate change, marine litter and the depletion of natural resources.
UNEP noted that each of the laureates, in different ways, shows how shifting the world onto a path that is low-carbon, efficient, inclusive, and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable is not only possible, but already in progress.
The 2016 winners are:
- Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, for outstanding leadership in fighting climate change and in national environmental action;
- Leyla Acaroglu, founder of Disrupt Design, New York, Eco Innovators, Melbourne, and UnSchool, for dedication to positive change through design, innovation, communication and human connection;
- Masen – the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy, for its commitment to advancing solar power, making solar energy affordable and innovative approaches to green financing;
- Afroz Shah, for outstanding leadership and initiative in mobilizing large-scale public support to remove 3,000 tonnes of litter from Versova beach in Mumbai;
- Berta Cáceres, recognized posthumously for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people in Honduras and the protection of their natural environment; and
- José Sarukhán Kermez, for a lifetime of leadership and innovation in the conservation of biodiversity in Mexico and around the world.
The COP13 High-Level Segment concludes tomorrow and over the next two weeks countries, are expected to adopt the so-called Cancun Declaration, to step up their commitments to protect biodiversity and achieve 20 biodiversity goals known as the Aichi Targets, which have a 2020 deadline.