Helen Clark: Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Climate Change

Sep 20, 2010

Scaling Up Local Solutions to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals

Keynote Address by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
American Museum of Natural History

New York

Welcome to this High Level Event on Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Climate Change: Scaling Up Local Solutions to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

I am delighted by the attendance here tonight of representatives of so many Member States, including Heads of State and Government and many senior ministers.

I welcome too the scientists and academics among us, and all colleagues and valued partners from the private sector, foundations, the media, and UN agencies. My thanks go to the American Museum of Natural History for sharing this wonderful venue with us tonight.

I would also like to express UNDP’s thanks to the Governments of Norway, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and Spain for their support for UNDP’s work on biodiversity, climate change, and the MDGs, through programmes such as the Equator Initiative, the UN-REDD Programme, the Africa Adaptation Programme, and the MDG Achievement Fund. Your investments are so important for promoting sustainable development.

Finally, let me extend a special welcome to the distinguished leaders from civil society and non-governmental organizations, including our guests of honor: the representatives of the local and indigenous communities whom we are celebrating tonight for their outstanding achievements in reducing poverty through conservation initiatives and the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Setting the stage – MDGs and Environment

In 2000, I was one of the many Heads of State and Government who came to New York to sign the Millennium Declaration.

We signed on to achieve a comprehensive set of eight development goals by 2015.

The aim was to make life much better for billions of people around the world.

Now, ten years later, leaders meet this week at the MDG Summit to reflect on the progress of the last decade and on the road to 2015.

One of the MDGs focused on environmental sustainability, with targets aimed at reducing the loss of biodiversity and integrating principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes.

The climate-related disasters of our times now make it more patently clear than even a decade ago that environmental considerations have to be integrated into development paradigms and approaches.

We have only one Planet Earth on which to live. We cannot hope to sustain development if the environments in which people live on that one planet are rendered inhospitable or less conducive to life itself.

Take, for example, the implications of forest loss and degradation. In our forests, people have long found food, wood, and medicines. Flowers and pollinators have lived symbiotically. Birds have kept insect populations in check. Micronutrient rich soils are produced. Water is stored and distributed. And our forests are themselves climate regulators. So much of what humans need to be able to thrive is to be found in our forests.

Investing in the sound environmental management of our natural heritage is therefore not only of great intrinsic value but also has important implications for the quantity and quality of life on earth.

In this International Year of Biodiversity, we celebrate the vital contribution of biological diversity to the economies and livelihoods of rich and poor people and nations alike.

The Triple Challenge: Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, and Poverty

The world now faces a convergence of environmental and poverty challenges.  

Pollution, degradation, and the overuse of non-renewable resources are depleting the vitality of global ecosystems and have led to an unprecedented decline in biodiversity.  

While these trends were present when the MDGs were launched in 2000, they have intensified in the past decade.

Biodiversity loss has particularly serious implications for our fight against poverty and MDG achievement.

For the poor in most rural settings, ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain are their primary assets and source of livelihoods. It is not uncommon for poor families to obtain one half to two thirds of their total income from the goods and services which nature provides.  

For the more than one billion people living in extreme poverty, preserving ecosystems and their goods and services is simply critical for daily survival.

With climate change a present and pressing reality – as the melting glaciers, rising sea levels, erratic weather patterns, and, most recently, the torrential monsoon rains in Pakistan and the drought in the Sahel bear witness to - an additional stress is placed on the earth´s ecosystems.

This further intensifies the challenges facing the world’s poor, who have limited resilience to cope with the impact of climate change.

The combined effects of climate change and biodiversity loss will make it difficult to sustain the progress made to date on the MDGs, let alone accelerate it – unless we step up to the challenges of tackling both decisively.   

So we can choose.

We can choose the option of perpetuating vicious cycles of biodiversity loss, climate change, and persistent poverty.

Or we can push for virtuous cycles which concurrently sustain biodiversity and ecosystems, help mitigate and strengthen resilience to climate change, and advance human and economic progress and the MDG agenda.

Success is Possible—and Represented Here Tonight

Sadly, the first choice is the one which has been made for so long in so many places. Now our changing climate and depleted biodiversity are stark testimony to how previous generations´ choices impact on those of future generations.

But this is not a time for resignation and despair.  We can still choose that second option - for a sustainable future.

Many local and indigenous communities have been able to convert their environmental assets into sustainable sources of livelihood without compromising the environment for future generations.

The Equator Prize celebrates just such efforts.

The prize winners show us that to pit development achievements against the conservation of biodiversity is to engage in a false choice.

Their initiatives show the importance of factoring the environment into development solutions, and the capacity of local communities to craft sustainable development solutions.

The Local Level as the Nexus of Change

Decades of development experience — including the implementation of thousands of community-led initiatives in 120 countries supported by funding from the GEF Small Grants Programme — teach us that action and ownership at the local level underpins the success of most environment and development initiatives.

Poverty reduction strategies and efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change cannot succeed without being rooted in the demands, capabilities, and actions of local communities.

Biodiversity conservation will not be effective either without the active engagement of local communities, which comprise the primary daily users of nature’s resources.

This underlines the importance of empowering local actors for MDG acceleration. Indeed it calls for the “localization” of the MDGs.

All of us who are actors at the national and international levels can support their efforts.
An excellent example of how we can do that, is the Global Partnership on Community-Based Adaptation, the establishment of which will be announced here tonight.

This Evening’s Ask: Create an Enabling Environment for Scaling-up Local Solutions

This evening UNDP makes four recommendations on how an enabling environment for scaling-up local solutions for MDG achievement can be better supported:

First, a supportive policy environment must be promoted. That means providing secure resource tenure rights to local groups, to ensure that they enjoy the benefits of their efforts without fear of expropriation.  It also means creating a regulatory environment which is friendly to small, nature-based enterprises, enabling them to compete fairly in the marketplace.

Second, local capacity building needs support. Many different skills and capacities are needed to manage an ecosystem for sustained benefits, and to distribute those benefits equitably. Helping to fill capacity gaps is one of the most effective ways of supporting local action.

Third, learning and knowledge-sharing needs to be fostered.  This speeds the spread of best practice, and creates mutual support networks. Effective communication between local groups and policymakers is also crucial in order to enhance political awareness and inform policy making.

Last, but not least, access to adequate finance is critical. Existing sources of finance for ecosystem-based initiatives are far too limited to support the needed scaling-up for MDG achievement.  New sources of environmental finance, including climate finance, offer real potential for community based adaptation and mitigation efforts, for example through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiatives.

By creating an enabling policy environment, supporting capacity building, promoting learning and knowledge sharing, and securing financing, we set the stage for a transformational impact on local ecosystems and economies.

In support of these recommendations UNDP is launching today "The Local Capacity Strategy: Enabling Action for the Environment and Sustainable Development." This strategy will accelerate UNDP's own efforts at the local level, and enable us to strengthen our many partnerships to move this agenda forward.

Conclusion - Investing in a New Development Model

Tonight we convene both to celebrate successes already achieved and to commit to act to accelerate progress further. 

We recognize that when we invest in ecosystem-based initiatives rooted at the local level, we invest in a new model of development: a model which puts the environment at the center – not the periphery - of our thinking and mobilises the untapped potential of local people.

In tapping that potential, we unleash many possibilities, and a new momentum toward MDG acceleration is achieved.   

It is now my honor to introduce Senator Tim Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund.  
I would like to acknowledge the UNF’s longstanding support to the United Nations, and thank Ted Turner and Tim Wirth for the Foundation’s longstanding generosity to UNDP’s work, through the Equator Initiative, and in many other ways.

Thank you.

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