Young people’s leadership, drive for justice, the ‘best signals of hope’ that biodiversity loss can be halted

Secretary-General António Guterres with youth attendees at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Secretary-General António Guterres with youth attendees at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada.

Young people’s leadership, drive for justice, the ‘best signals of hope’ that biodiversity loss can be halted

Climate and Environment

Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday denounced the existing global financial system as “morally bankrupt” and called on youth leaders gathered for a UN summit in Montreal, Canada, to push for justice so that all countries, especially in the developing world, have the tools needed to curb biodiversity loss and restore the balance between humans and nature.

“Beyond biodiversity, beyond climate, there is a central question in the world today and that is justice. We live in a system in which both the economic rules and the financial architecture are morally bankrupt,” the UN chief told a side event organized by the Global Youth Biodiversity Network and other youth groups, ahead of the official opening of COP15, the latest edition of the UN Biodiversity Conference. 

Tweet URL

This COP, the Fifteenth Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), runs through 19 December and is expected to see the adoption of a post-2020 roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. 

“Your leadership [in tackling], the war against nature” the Secretary-General told the youth representatives, “is the best signal of hope that this battle is worth fighting and that we have a chance to win. The youth are on the frontline of the battle to rescue humankind... mobilizing even when governments are reluctant to take the situation seriously.” 

The world’s young people are making civil society and the business community understand that this is the moment to reverse course, he stated, adding: “This is the moment to make peace with nature. This is the moment to consider that biodiversity and climate are the two defining issues of our time and these are two battles we cannot afford to lose.”

Huge reforms needed 

The Secretary-General said that the world we live in is very unfair: “For instance [during the COVID-19 pandemic], vaccines were distributed in a very unfair and unjust way. In a city like New York, people had two vaccines, and some had three boosters. But in the African continent there is still a large number of people that have not had access to even the first vaccine.”  

He added that at the same time, because developed countries had solid economies, they had “printed money... trillions of dollars to help recover from the pandemic. Developing countries cannot print money because if they did, their currencies would go down the drain. So, [they] have had enormous difficulties recovering from the pandemic [which has] impacted education, health sectors, jobs and many other aspects of life, even as those countries accrued more debt. 

“We need to be able to say that huge reforms are needed in order to establish a more equitable economic and financial system in which developing countries also have a chance to guarantee for their citizens the [benefits that technology provides those in developed countries],” said the UN chief.  

“If there is one issue that is important for this COP, it is ensuring support to developing countries, namely in Africa,” he said, adding along with this, that one of the crucial aspects being discussed is financing.  

“We need to make sure there is adequate financing, especially for Africa and developing countries, in relation to the protection of biodiversity. But it’s also important to have funding for the kind of transformational activities and transformational movements that are essential for us to win this battle,” he said, urging that priority be given boosting the “capacity of young people to transform society – technologies, behaviors, and all other aspects of our common life.” 

At the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, Secretary-General António Guterres meets with youth representatives to discuss the role of youth in supporting a just and equitable  post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Vote, participate, mobilize 

In a written question, a representative wondered what the youth could do to push governments to take the biodiversity crisis more seriously: “We are out in the streets... doing everything we can, but the governments are not moving fast enough.”  

“I used to be in government, and I can tell you this: one thing governments are very concerned about is votes,” responded the UN chief, telling the youth representatives to be very active in telling people not to vote for those that are involved in destroying nature; to not work for companies that are destroying nature; and not to work with civil society organizations that are not engaged in protecting biodiversity.  

“The most important thing is to multiply the mechanisms of citizenship that will make governments feel that if they do not correct course, they will lose elections,” he explained.   

The big banks must change 

To a question from a young African representative about what actions could be taken to ensure the continent is able to take full advantage of the financial mechanisms and schemes to protect their biodiversity, Mr. Guterres stressed that the UN and the international community have been fighting for several innovative ways to address that issue.  

“Some are farther along than others [but] it’s very important not to reduce official development assistance (ODA). Some developed countries are now doing this in their budgets and its very important to denounce that.”  

He said there was also a need to make sure that when the World Bank and other international development banks operate, they provide guarantees, and assume the first risk in coalitions, in order to mobilize massive private finance at reasonable cost to countries like yours, “because private finance will only go to a country like yours with very high interest rates which will not help you to do what needs to be done.”  

“So, the international financial institutions must change their business models [and] assume more risk. Some other instruments that we have been fighting for, for example, include [mechanisms] to swap debt for investments in climate action and biodiversity preservation or other areas of sustainable development,” he noted.