Our planet is precious

Reaffirming UNDP’s commitment to positive environmental change through collective action

October 5, 2023

L-R: Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, UNDP Executive Coordinator and Director-Environmental Finance for Nature, Climate and Energy, Kevin Petrini, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative, Federated States of Micronesia, Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe, UNDP Resident Representative Nepal, Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, Matilde Mordt, UNDP Resident Representative Ecuador, Snehal Soneji UNDP Resident Representative Comoros.

Photo: UNDP

Our planet is precious; it’s our home. From the peaks of the Himalayas in Nepal to the roots of the rainforests in Ecuador, from the islands of Comoros to Micronesia; natural diversity sustains us, supporting our lives, and our livelihoods.

Weeks after gathering for the Seventh Global Environment Facility (GEF) Assembly in Vancouver, we heard from speakers at the SDG Summit during the UN General Assembly in New York. Our learnings during the GEF Assembly were reinforced throughout the summit, which began with UN Secretary-General António Guterres reaffirming that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a promise to leave no one behind.

A throughline of the summit was the dire need to act on climate in our effort to meet the SDGs. We’re not transitioning to renewable energy fast enough. We’re not meeting the needs of communities devastated by climate change. We must put nature at the heart of economic decisions. President of the Union of Comoros, and current Chairperson of the African Union, Azali Assoumani, called for the significant acceleration of collective action to meet the urgent needs of Africa and the world. As the Secretary-General said, “The war on nature must stop.”

This urgency was palpable during our meeting in Vancouver, under the shroud of smoke from the wildfires in the Canadian Rockies. As our global collective gathered, dedicated to protecting nature, it was clear we must keep fighting. 

UNDP remains steadfast in its promise to leave no one behind and in our commitment to reach the SDGs. Through knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and partnerships, we’re meeting the social and environmental challenges we face. 

UNDP at the Seventh GEF Assembly

We attended events on the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework; ensuring direct access for Indigenous peoples and local communities; improving policy coherence; narrowing the funding gap; transforming women’s rights and gender equality; collaboration between science, industry and society, driving positive behavior change for people and planet; climate health science; and food systems transformation pathways.

Experts shared examples from global science and policy. We brought experiences from Nepal, Ecuador, Comoros, and Micronesia. We were humbled by the voices of experts from over 180 countries who are dedicated to solving our most challenging planetary issues. We were reassured by the commitment of GEF and its donors to continue funding global action.

With the background of wildfires, we were constantly reminded of urgency. What we do matters; what we don’t do matters. We’re running out of time.

Biodiversity and Indigenous peoples as environmental stewards

Estimates place the biodiversity funding gap at an average of US$711 billion per year over the next ten years. This may seem insurmountable, but it isn’t. After listening to experts explain challenges such as insufficient subsidies and difficulties in policy coherence, along with potential solutions, the way forward is clear, and it must integrate Indigenous peoples and local communities. 

The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund allocates 20 percent of its resources directly to Indigenous peoples and local communities. An estimated 80 percent of biodiversity and 30 percent of global carbon sequestration is on Indigenous lands. Despite these powerful figures, only one percent of current environmental funding goes to these communities.  

UNDP participated in a panel discussion and met with Indigenous peoples and local communities, learning more about the support they need to implement this funding. Access must integrate the rights of Indigenous populations and incorporate criteria such as free, prior, and informed consent in decision-making for funding mechanisms, respect for traditional knowledge systems, and self-determination.

Our work with GEF Small Grants Programme fosters these foundational principles. Combined with our additional instruments to catalyze and transfer additional funding UNDP is uniquely positioned to support direct access to these funds.

Close up frog sitting on greenery

UNDP's work with the GEF Small Grants Programme supports wildlife and Indigenous and local communities throughout the world.

Photo: UNDP Sri Lanka

Climate finance for Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Africa and across the world are uniquely impacted by climate change.

Home to large youth populations, these countries balance the need for increased energy with conservation. While many opportunities exist for the sustainable use of resources, governments face multiple challenges, including limited capacities to reach innovative financing tools and obstacles in implementing programmes that engage communities both as beneficiaries of natural resources, and as partners in their protection.

GEF funding and the additional funding it unlocks play a critical role in advancing this agenda.

We were reminded that climate challenges are interrelated. No matter where they live Indigenous peoples and local communities face similar obstacles. Melting glaciers and the lack of early warning systems hurt agriculture and forests in the mountains. Changing habitats lead to increased human-wildlife conflict and the need for regulatory frameworks that don’t contract customary practices. Forest fragmentation, infrastructure development, poor compliance with safeguard measures, internal migrations, and hydropower development increasingly impact rivers and forests.

We shared our knowledge of gender and biodiversity. First, we discussed what the Post-2020 Gender Plan of responsive implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (as the first Rio Convention to incorporate a dedicated Gender Equality target) could mean for a country like Nepal. Second, along with the many opportunities it brings. Finally, we convened on how UNDP could support women, Indigenous peoples, local communities, and other marginalized groups to use their stewardship of natural resources for their greater benefit, and the benefit of nature.

We heard of amazing work happening in the Ecuadorian Amazon with the ‘purple boots’ programme, which brings women together and helps raise their incomes, while protecting the environment. We aim to ensure our work spreads beyond individuals and into our communities.

A way forward 

The  GEF Assembly was a transformative experience that reaffirmed our commitment to positive environmental change. Underscored by the SDG Summit, finance must be part of the plan to meet these goals; it must be innovative and accessible to the countries hardest hit by our warming climate. As key partners to the GEF, the insights gained, connections forged, and lessons learned will undoubtedly shape our approach. We are excited to leverage the collaborative spirit, innovative financing mechanisms, and wealth of knowledge.

With just 15 percent of SDG targets on track at this crucial halfway point to 2030, we must work together, fostering collaboration between countries, regions, financing institutions, and communities. Returning to our respective countries, we carry with us a renewed sense of purpose and determination to create a more sustainable and equitable world for all.